Israeli forces on Monday struck targets across the Gaza Strip, including the offices of Hamas’ supreme leader, in response to a surprise rocket attack from the Palestinian territory, as the military bolstered its troops and rocket-defence systems in anticipation of a new round of heavy fighting with the Islamic militant group.
Israel opened public bomb shelters in most major cities and civil defence authorities canceled sports events and public transportation in southern Israel. The Israeli army said air raid sirens wailed in southern Israel late Monday night, with one rocket fired into the country, but it provided no further details.
The barrage began as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House.
“Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression,” said Netanyahu, calling it miraculous that no one was killed in the rocket attack. “We will do whatever we must do, to defend our people and to defend our state,”
Netanyahu cut short the high-profile visit to Washington due to the attack, which prompted the military to deploy troops along Israel’s southern border.
Several airstrikes rocked Gaza, including an explosion that destroyed the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. An earlier blast destroyed a multistory building in Gaza City that Israel said had served as a Hamas military intelligence headquarters.
There were no immediate reports of casualties. In both blasts, Israel fired warning shots to evacuate the buildings. But the airstrike on the multistory building was so powerful it sent debris flying onto the roof of The Associated Press bureau, located on the 11th floor of a nearby highrise.
Haniyeh said earlier in a written statement Monday as the Israeli military began its barrage that the Palestinian people “will not surrender” and its militant factions “will deter the enemy if it exceeds the red lines.”
Netanyahu promised a tough response, while Gaza’s Hamas leaders went into hiding, setting the stage for a possible major conflagration just two weeks before Israeli elections.
In Beirut, the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said its leader, HassanNasrallah, met Monday with a Hamas delegation led by top official SalehArouri. Hezbollah said they discussed the Gaza situation and “Israeli aggression.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday’s rocket fire, but Gaza is controlled by Hamas, an Islamic militant Palestinian group that seeks Israel’s destruction and possesses a large arsenal of rockets and missiles capable of striking deep inside Israel. The territory is home to other Palestinian militant groups, including Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed armed organization that also has a formidable rocket arsenal.
UN condemns rocket attack
The spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Guterres was “gravely concerned.
“Today’s firing of a rocket from Gaza towards Israel is a serious and unacceptable violation. We are aware of the latest reports of firing on Gaza,” said Stephane Dujarric. “We continue to work with Egypt and all concerned parties to try to de-escalate the situation.”
In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer condemned the attack on the residential area, with Scheer characterizing it as a “completely unacceptable act of terror against innocent civilians.’
Very concerned by rocket attacks fired from Gaza into Israel today. Canada condemns this violence. We wish a swift recovery to all those injured in this attack and call for de-escalation and calm.
Trump stressed Israel’s right to “defend itself” as the U.S. recognized in an official proclamation Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
The rocket attack destroyed a residential home in the community of Mishmeret, north of the city of Kfar Saba, wounding six members of the family. The Magen David Adom rescue service said it treated seven people overall, including two women who were moderately wounded. The others, including two children and an infant, had minor wounds.
The sounds of air raid sirens jolted residents of the Sharon area, northeast of Tel Aviv, from their sleep shortly after 5 a.m. local time, sending them scurrying to bomb shelters. A strong sound of an explosion followed.
The family home in Mishmeret was left in ruins, with tiles, broken furniture and debris scattered about. A shattered baby’s crib lay among the rubble and two family dogs died in the explosion.
“I nearly lost my family,” said Robert Wolf, grandfather of the injured residents. “If we hadn’t gotten to the bomb shelter in time, I would now be burying all my family.”
Maj. Mika Lifshitz, a military spokesperson, said it was a self-manufactured rocket with a range of 120 kilometres, making it one of the deepest rocket strikes ever carried out by Hamas.
Lifshitz added that two armour and infantry brigades were being mobilized to the Gaza front and that a limited drafting of reserves was also taking place.
Anticipating a strong Israeli response, Gaza’s Hamas leaders were believed to have gone underground. Witnesses reported seeing Hamas evacuating its personnel from government premises. Hamas also announced that its Gaza chief, Yehiya Sinwar, had cancelled a scheduled public speech.
Monday’s attack came 10 days after rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel’s densely populated commercial capital of Tel Aviv. The Israeli military at the time struck back and the sides appeared to be hurtling toward another confrontation. But Gaza’s Hamas leaders said the rocket was fired accidently and calm was quickly restored.
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought three wars since the group seized power in the strip in 2007. Smaller flare-ups have occurred sporadically since Israel and Hamas fought their last war in 2014; Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for all fire coming out of the coastal territory.
The outburst comes at a sensitive time for both sides. Israel is holding national elections in 15 days. Netanyahu, who also served as defence minister, is locked in a tight fight for re-election and has faced heavy criticism from his opponents for what they say has been an ineffective response to Gaza militants.
In Gaza, Hamas has come under rare public criticism for the harsh conditions in the territory. An Israel-Egyptian blockade, combined with sanctions by the rival Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas government have fuelled an economic crisis. Political analysts say the territory’s residents have little desire for another war with Israel.
Instead of a full-fledged conflict, Hamas has tried to end the blockade through a violent weekly protest movement along the Israel-Gaza border fence that it launched a year ago. It too has largely failed. At least 190 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have been killed during the weekly rallies.
At the same time, there has been an uptick in violence in the West Bank over the past week, with a stabbing and shooting attack that left two Israelis dead near a West Bank settlement and Israel’s killing of two Palestinians it said attacked troops.
This story originally appeared on CBC