Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza Strip early Friday, triggering a new barrage of rockets on communities in southern Israel.
According to a statement from the Israeli military, just after midnight, fighter jets targeted two tunnels in the Beit Hanoun and Khan Yunis areas.
The military claimed that the strikes were on Hamas sites, saying tunnels “did not cross into Israeli territory” but were built with the intention of launching attacks against Israel.
The airstrikes targeted also two alleged weapon manufacturing sites in the northern and central Gaza Strip, the military said. The sites allegedly belonged to Hamas, a Palestinian armed group and movement that runs Gaza.
“The strike was done as a response to the security violations of Hamas during the last few days,” the statement read.
Israel accused Hamas of standing behind a barrage of about 34 rockets that were fired from Lebanon Thursday afternoon at northern Israel, injuring two civilians.
Both the UN and US called for calm on Thursday after the rocket fire. Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, condemned the firing of rockets from Lebanon, adding that Lebanese troops and UN peacekeepers were investigating and trying to find the perpetrators. Mikati said his government “categorically rejects any military escalation” and the use of Lebanese territories to stage acts that threaten stability.
Earlier this week, militants in Gaza fired about 20 rockets at southern Israel, saying the fire was a response to Israeli raids at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem.
The airstrikes triggered a new round of rocket fire from Gaza. The Israeli military said in a statement that the rockets targeted the town of Sderot and other communities in southern Israel. Overall, some 10 rockets were fired at southern Israel within less than an hour, and all were intercepted by the anti-rocket Iron Dome system or fell in open fields. No injuries have been reported.
The escalation was triggered by two consecutive days of Israeli raids on Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. As Israeli forces has stormed the holy site and savagely attacked Palestinian worshipers with batons and gun butts on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Viral videos show armed Israeli forces beating worshippers inside the mosque and smashing windows, as women and children cry for help.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a special meeting of his security cabinet to discuss possible military responses to the fire.
It came during a sensitive holiday time, as Muslims were observing the holy month of Ramadan with prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and Jews were commemorating the Passover holiday.
Also on Thursday night, clashes broke out in Arab cities in northern Israel, including in Umm Al-Fahm, Sakhnin and Nazareth as demonstrations were held to protest the Israeli raids in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Two protesters have been arrested.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the UN security council would hold a closed-door session on Thursday to discuss the violence since Wednesday’s raid on Al-Aqsa, which Israeli authorities said was an attempt to prevent clashes by clearing groups barricaded inside with weapons, rocks and firecrackers planning to breach the peace.
In the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian shooting attack near the settlement of Adam lightly injured an Israeli soldier, according to a statement issued by Binyamin Regional Council.
Striking Gaza, annual occurrence?
Similar fighting in 2021 led to an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
Also, in August 2022, a similar escalation took place. A total of 31 Palestinians have been killed, including six children and four women, and 265 others have been injured in the Israeli occupation’s aggression on Gaza Strip, at the time.
Last year, Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) has managed to broker a ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinian factions, that started 11:30 pm local time (20:30 GMT). GIS officials stressed the need to reach an immediate ceasefire in Gaza “before the situation gets out of control.”
The sources said that Egypt is also exerting intensive efforts to release Palestinian prisoners Khalil Al-Awawda and Bassam Al-Saadi from Israeli prisons as soon as possible.