Explosions were heard in the Gaza Strip early Friday and Palestinian witnesses said Israeli planes bombed two Hamas security positions in the south and north of the territory.
The Israeli military confirmed that it was attacking what it called “terror sites” in Gaza, hours after it said two rockets were launched from the enclave at the Tel Aviv area.
Late Thursday, the Israeli military said Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets toward Tel Aviv, marking a significant escalation that raised the likelihood of a harsh Israeli reprisal.
No damage or injuries were reported. But it marked the first time that Tel Aviv, some 80 kilometres north of Gaza, has been targeted by rocket fire since a 2014 war with Gaza militants.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to the military headquarters in Tel Aviv and was conferring with senior army officials about a response.
In Gaza, there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
‘Be calm, but be alert’
Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the Israeli army’s chief spokesperson, said officials had no prior warning of the attack and were trying to determine who fired the rockets. Israel holds Gaza’s Hamas rulers responsible for all fire out of the territory.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said he had ordered the city to open public air-raid shelters as a protective measure. But he said there were no special instructions and encouraged residents to stick to their daily routines.
Gaza is controlled by Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since Hamas sized control of Gaza in 2007. Hamas possesses a big arsenal of rockets and missiles, but it has sought to contain violence with Israel since the last war in 2014.
Hamas denied responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv, saying the rockets were launched when the group’s military wing was meeting with Egyptian mediators to try to strengthen a ceasefire between Gaza militants and Israel.
Rocket fire ‘against the national consensus’
In an unusual step that indicated Hamas was attempting to prevent further escalation, the Hamas interior ministry said the rocket fire went “against the national consensus” and promised to take action against the perpetrators.
Earlier this week, Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire on southern Israel, near the border. Late Thursday, local media said that Egyptian mediators left the territory.
In addition to Hamas, Gaza is home to other militant groups. They include Salafists inspired by ISIS, as well as Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed armed organization that also possesses a formidable rocket arsenal. The Islamic Jihad also denied involvement in Thursday’s attack.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu issued a warning to Hamas, rejecting suggestions that Israel would be reluctant to take tough action in Gaza ahead of national elections next month.
“I suggest to Hamas, don’t count on it,” he told his cabinet. “We will do anything necessary to restore security and quiet to the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and to the south in general.”