Israel bombards Gaza after rocket attack across border

Aggressive response may reflect hardline approach by new defence minister Lieberman

An Israeli soldier stands guard next to the Iron Dome anti-missile system deployed next to the southern town of Sderot on Monday. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

An Israeli soldier stands guard next to the Iron Dome anti-missile system deployed next to the southern town of Sderot on Monday. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

 

Israel has made clear that it is not seeking an escalation in Gaza even though it carried out more than 50 air strikes on Sunday night in what may be an indication of a new hardline policy by Avigdor Lieberman, who took over as defence minister in May.

The Israeli attacks came in response to the firing of a rocket by militants which landed in a residential area of Sderot, the closest Israeli town to the Gaza border.

A fringe Salafist group, possibly linked to Islamic State, was believed to be responsible, but Israel blamed Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Israel automatically responds militarily every time militants launch a projectile from Gaza but Sunday night’s strikes marked the most serious escalation since the end of the Gaza war two years ago.

The targets chosen were all in the northern Gaza Strip and included Hamas training bases and a water tower which Israel claims was used by Hamas as an observation post. A handful of Palestinians were lightly hurt.

Military spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner said the operation was meant “to bring quiet to the people of southern Israel”.

Hamas was quick to distance itself from the firing of the rocket but said Israel’s response was an attempt to change the status quo in Gaza.

“We hold Israel responsible for the escalation in the Gaza Strip and we stress that its aggression will not succeed in breaking the will of our people or dictate the terms of resistance,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

It remains to be seen if the aggressive Israeli response marks the start of a new policy by Mr Lieberman, who has often spoken of the need to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza. However, most analysts believe that neither side is seeking a military confrontation at this juncture, noting that the period since the Gaza war in 2014 has been the quietest along the border in living memory.

Turkey criticised Israel for the air strikes in Gaza, saying it would not desist from such condemnation despite the restoration of ties between Ankara and Jerusalem.

“Normalising ties with Israel does not mean that we will keep silent in the face of attacks against the Palestinian people,” the Turkish foreign ministry said.

Turkish police detained five people who tried to break into the Israeli consulate in Istanbul to protest against the Israeli actions.