Israel bombs Gaza, positions troops after rocket attack near Tel Aviv


26 March 2019| 18 Rajab 1440| Middle East Monitor

Israel launched air strikes in the Gaza Strip and deployed extra troops to the border on Monday, promising a strong response to the longest-range Palestinian rocket attack to cause casualties in years, reports Reuters.

Seven Israelis were wounded near Tel Aviv by the morning rocket attack. The Gaza health ministry said two Palestinians were wounded by the initial wave of retaliatory strikes.

Dozens of explosions rocked the coastal enclave and ambulance sirens echoed through the night.

In one Gaza neighbourhood, people rushed to by bread in anticipation of a long escalation. The office of the Islamist movement’s leader Ismail Haniyeh was one of the initial targets hit, although he was likely to have been evacuated in advance.

Sirens also rang out in Israeli towns near the border. One short-range rocket was fired into Israel after the air strikes began, the military said. No casualties were reported.

The escalation appeared to be the biggest in at least four months, and potentially one of the biggest since Israel last went to war against Hamas five years ago.

It comes just two weeks before an election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life after a decade in power, campaigning on a tough line against Palestinian militants. Beset by corruption scandals, he faces a strong challenge from a centrist coalition led by a top general.

Netanyahu cut short a visit to the United States, saying he would fly home right after meeting President Donald Trump.

“Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this,” Netanyahu said. “And as we speak … Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression.”

Trump told reporters with Netanyahu at his side that Israel has the “absolute right” to defend itself.

The Israeli military said Hamas launched the rocket that destroyed a house in Mishmeret, a village north of Tel Aviv. There was no claim of responsibility for the early morning attack.

The military said Hamas fired the rocket from about 120 km (75 miles) away, making it the longest-range attack from Gaza causing casualties since the last war in Gaza in 2014.

Israel has waged three wars on Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets from Gaza are a frequent occurrence, but Israel’s swift mobilisation of extra troops to the border area was unusual.

The two sides have managed to avert all-out war for five years, most recently with the help of Egyptian mediation after a major escalation in November last year.

Some of the other initial targets struck in Gaza, likely to have been evacuated, were the internal security office of Hamas, a naval base, a training camp and an insurance office in Gaza city, Palestinian security officials said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged restraint from both sides and said that, together with Egypt, the United Nations was trying to help defuse the situation.