Is­rael strikes Ha­mas sites in Gaza af­ter rocket at­tacks

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Is­rael car­ried out new strikes on Gaza yes­ter­day in what it said was re­tal­i­a­tion for rock­ets fired at its ter­ri­tory from the coastal en­clave.

The strikes on Ha­mas po­si­tions came just two days af­ter a cease­fire be­gan be­tween Is­rael and the smaller Gaza-based mil­i­tant group Is­lamic Ji­had.

A flare-up be­tween Is­rael and the ter­ri­tory’s sec­ond most pow­er­ful Pales­tinian mil­i­tant group sparked a se­ries of deadly ex­changes last week.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary said it was “cur­rently strik­ing Ha­mas ter­ror tar­gets” in Gaza.

The army said it launched the strikes af­ter “two rock­ets were fired from the Gaza Strip to­wards Is­raeli ter­ri­tory” and were in­ter­cepted by Is­rael’s air de­fences.

Pales­tinian se­cu­rity sources said the Is­raeli strikes were aimed at two Ha­mas sites in the north of the ter­ri­tory. It was the first time Ha­mas has been tar­geted since vi­o­lence be­gan to es­ca­late on Tues­day with Is­rael’s tar­geted killing of a top Is­lamic Ji­had com­man­der.

That strike trig­gered al­most im­me­di­ate re­tal­ia­tory rocket fire from Is­lamic Ji­had at Is­rael, set­ting off air-raid sirens and send­ing Is­raelis rush­ing to bomb shel­ters in the coun­try’s south­ern and cen­tral re­gions.

Is­rael’s mil­i­tary had said about 450 rock­ets were fired at its ter­ri­tory dur­ing the fight­ing and air de­fences had in­ter­cepted dozens of them.

It then re­sponded with its own air strikes, say­ing it had tar­geted more Is­lamic Ji­had mil­i­tant sites and rocket and mis­sile-launch­ing squads.

Af­ter two days of vi­o­lence – in which 34 Pales­tini­ans were killed while there were no Is­raeli fa­tal­i­ties – a cease­fire was agreed.

But it has so far been pre­car­i­ous, with fire com­ing from both sides on Fri­day af­ter the agree­ment went into ef­fect.

The Gaza Strip is home to two mil­lion Pales­tini­ans and Is­rael and Pales­tinian mil­i­tants have fought three wars there since 2008.

Is­raeli an­a­lysts said last week that the fo­cus on Is­lamic Ji­had in­stead of Ha­mas was a clear sig­nal that the army sought to avoid a wider con­flict in Gaza.

Ha­mas re­peat­edly said it would not aban­don its ally, but not join­ing the fight helped it main­tain a frag­ile truce with Is­rael that has al­lowed tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in Qatari aid to flow into the im­pov­er­ished Gaza Strip since last year.

On Thurs­day, Is­raeli mil­i­tary spokesman Jonathan Con­ri­cus said that the army had “wanted to keep Ha­mas out of the fight­ing”.

“Through­out the op­er­a­tion, we of course dis­tin­guished be­tween Ha­mas and Is­lamic Ji­had. And all of our op­er­a­tions were mea­sured, pro­por­tion­ate and fo­cused only on mil­i­tary as­sets be­long­ing to Is­lamic Ji­had,” he said.

Ha­mas was crit­i­cised in Gaza for not join­ing the fight­ing.

Like­wise, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu was crit­i­cised by po­lit­i­cal ri­vals at home for not hold­ing Ha­mas ac­count­able for at­tacks from the ter­ri­tory it rules.

The vi­o­lence came at a po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive time for Is­rael, with no new govern­ment in place since a Septem­ber elec­tion ended in dead­lock.

Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu was crit­i­cised at home for not hold­ing Ha­mas ac­count­able for the at­tacks

AFP

Ex­plo­sions light up the night sky over Khan You­nis in the south­ern Gaza Strip af­ter an Is­raeli air strike this week­end

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