Tuesday 19 March 2019

Israel airstrikes blast Gaza after rocket attacks target Tel Aviv

Smoke and flame are seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza March 15, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Smoke and flame are seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza March 15, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Bel Trew

Israel pounded Gaza with airstrikes hitting 100 locations after militants in the territory fired two rockets towards Tel Aviv, the first time the coastal city has been targeted since the war in 2014.

The rockets triggered sirens in Israel's bustling commercial capital which lies some 80km north of Gaza and so is rarely affected by cross-border fire.

No damage or injuries were reported but the rare long-range attack sparked fears of another war just weeks ahead of general elections in Israel, which in the past have been preceded by Israeli military incursions in the Strip.

In retaliation, Israeli fighter jets struck areas across Gaza yesterday morning, injuring two people. It prompted a slew of rockets back into Israel, most of which were intercepted by Israel's powerful Iron Dome missile defence system.

"[Israeli] fighter jets, attack helicopters and other aircraft struck approximately 100 military targets belonging to the Hamas," the army said in a statement.

It added that it holds Hamas "responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it".

In Gaza, the health ministry reported that a man and a woman were injured by an air strike which hit Rafah, a town near the border with Egypt.

Hamas denied it was behind the Tel Aviv attack, saying the rockets were fired at a time when officials were meeting an Egyptian security delegation to discuss arrangements for the Strip.

Islamic Jihad, another powerful armed faction within Gaza, also denied responsibility and later said it would hold fire if Israel did.

Palestinian families reported heavy fire throughout the early morning and posted photos showing explosions from air strikes lighting up the sky.

"We were shaken awake by the bombing, our house was rocking," Haneen Owda (26), who lives in north Gaza, said.

"It has been intense all morning," she added.

Organisers of the weekly "Great March of Return" protests along the Gaza border fence with Israel cancelled planned rallies yesterday in light of the air strikes.

The regular protests, calling for the right of Palestinians to return to land they were forced from or fled during the creation of Israel, often see Palestinians launch incendiary kites and balloons tied with explosives at Israel.

Israeli military forces have faced accusations by the United Nations of committing possible war crimes for firing back, killing nearly 200 people and injuring thousands.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, met security officials in the country's military headquarters in Tel Aviv following the rocket fire.

Ronen Manelis, the Israeli army's chief spokesman, said officials had no prior warning of the rocket attack and were trying to pinpoint who was behind the attack.

The Israeli army later released a statement saying Hamas was responsible and posted video footage of the attack's aftermath on its official Twitter account. Army intelligence officials later said the rockets were fired towards Tel Aviv "by mistake". (© Independent News Service)

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