Israel launches air strikes in Gaza Strip after Tel Aviv rocket attack

Netanyahu cuts short US visit as Trump defends Israel’s ‘absolute right’ to defend itself

 

Israeli aircraft hit what were termed “Hamas targets” across the Gaza Strip on Monday evening after a rocket fired from Gaza destroyed a home in central Israel, wounding seven people and sending residents north of Tel Aviv into bomb shelters.

The air strikes were expected to be just the opening wave of a protracted Israeli military response to the rocket attack after Israel called up army reservists and transferred infantry and armoured corps units to the Gaza border.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the air strikes.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to the US, travelling home immediately after a meeting at the White House with US president Donald Trump.

“Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this,” Mr Netanyahu said, ahead of the White House meeting. “And as we speak Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression.” Mr Trump told reporters that Israel had the “absolute right” to defend itself.

A Hamas official denied Israel’s accusation that it was behind the rocket strike early on Monday. “No one from the resistance movements has an interest in firing rockets from Gaza towards the enemy,” the official said, speculating that the incident was caused by “bad weather”.

The Israeli military said the rocket had been fired from a Hamas position and that Israel was holding Hamas responsible for “everything that happens in the Gaza Strip”.

The rocket landed in the community of Mishmeret, 20km north of Tel Aviv – the furthest a Palestinian projectile has reached in Israel since the 2014 Gaza war.

Patriotic songs

The attack came only a week and a half after two rockets were launched towards Tel Aviv in what Israel determined was probably a mistake by militants. Israel responded with dozens of air strikes across Gaza, which injured four people.

Palestinian radio stations and Hamas TV played patriotic songs calling for “resistance” against Israel. Militants across the Gaza Strip had already abandoned headquarters and military posts, bracing for an Israeli response.

Tel Aviv and other cities in central Israel opened bomb shelters and the army deployed Iron Dome anti-missile batteries. The Israeli military also closed off roads close to the Gaza border to civilian vehicles and prevented farmers working in the area.

Egypt was in contact with both sides and urged the militant groups not to respond to the Israel attacks in order to avoid an all-out conflagration.

The latest escalation comes only two weeks before the Israeli election, but Israeli officials said the vote could be postponed in the event of a ground offensive.

The United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenovic, condemned the rocket fire and said that contacts were being held with Egypt in an effort to reach a truce, warning that the situation remained extremely tense.