Fire and smoke billow above buildings in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on Monday. Mahmud Hams/AFP
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel launched air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Monday after a rocket attack near Tel Aviv wounded seven people, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short a visit to the United States.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “gravely concerned” by the recent developments in Israel and the Gaza Strip and urges all sides to exercise maximum restraint, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“We continue to work with Egypt and all concerned parties to try to de-escalate the situation.”
Hamas’ leader said his group will respond if Israel retaliates too forcefully to an overnight rocket strike.
A ball of fire lights the sky above a building. Israel's military launched strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Mahmud Hams/ AFP
Ismail Haniyeh said in a written statement that the Palestinian people “will not surrender” and its factions “will deter the enemy if it exceeds the red lines.”
Hamas’ leaders went into hiding, police and security installations were evacuated and hospitals in Gaza were on alert in anticipation of the Israeli air strikes.
Netanyahu had threatened strong retaliation for the long-range rocket salvo amid accusations from opponents in a closely contested election, two weeks away, that he has been showing weakness in the face of security challenges from Gaza fighters.
“The Israel Defence Forces have begun striking Hamas terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement.
“The Palestinian people will not surrender and its factions will deter the enemy if it exceeds the red lines
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 120km away, making it the longest-range attack from Gaza causing casualties since a 2014 war.
Palestinian security officials said Israeli warplanes attacked targets across the coastal enclave. Palestinian radio stations and Hamas TV played patriotic songs calling for “resistance” against Israel.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in the Gaza Strip. Many targets were likely to have been evacuated in the hours following Netanyahu’s initial warning of retaliation shortly after the rocket strike.
Condemning the attack from Gaza, Trump told reporters with Netanyahu at his side that Israel has the “absolute right” to defend itself.
President Donald Trump (right) speaks as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) listens in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on Monday.
“Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this,” Netanyahu said about the rocket strike. “And as we speak ... Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression.”
Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said it treated seven people in the Israeli village, including an infant, a 3-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman who was suffering from blast injuries, burns and shrapnel wounds.
“It just made me feel really unsafe all of a sudden, which is a feeling I’m not used to,” said Nitzan Shifrin, a 19-year-old resident of Mishmeret.
The Israeli military said it was assigning two brigades to the Gaza area and some reservists were being called up. Reuters witnesses saw troops moving towards the border, where the military also closed several roads to civilian traffic.
“We are prepared for a wide range of scenarios,” chief spokesman Ronen Manelis said.
Israeli towns near Gaza and Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, opened bomb shelters in anticipation of rocket strikes.
“Gravely concerned by the recent developments in Israel and the Gaza Strip and urge all sides to exercise maximum restraint
New tensions between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas come days before the first anniversary of the start of massive protests and clashes in the Gaza Strip.
Since March 30 last year at least 258 Palestinians have been killed in the violence, along with two Israeli soldiers.
Here is a recap: A mass protest on March 30, 2018 demands the right for Palestinians to return to homes, now inside Israel, that they fled or were expelled from in the late 1940s, while the Jewish state was created.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians converge along the barrier that separates Gaza from Israel.
Officially organised by civil society groups, the rally is backed by Hamas which runs Israeli-blockaded Gaza.
Several groups of protesters face off with Israeli soldiers, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.
Israeli snipers respond with live fire, killing 19 Palestinians.
On April 6 thousands of Palestinians gather again near the barrier. Nine Palestinians are killed and nearly 500 injured.
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