Thursday 25 April 2019

Israel strikes back at Gaza after seven injured by rocket

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu

Ruth Eglash

The Israeli military said it had begun carrying out strikes on Hamas militant targets in the Gaza Strip yesterday, hours after a rocket struck a house in Israel.

Witnesses reported hearing explosions across the Palestinian territory just before the military's announcement.

Yesterday morning, seven people were hurt when a rocket launched from Gaza hit a house belonging to a British-Israeli family north of Tel Aviv.

The escalating tensions also prompted prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short a visit to Washington.

The Israeli leader, who had arrived less than 24 hours earlier, headed back immediately after a meeting with Donald Trump yesterday morning.

"This was a criminal attack on the state of Israel, and we will respond with force," said Mr Netanyahu.

He added that he had been briefed by the heads of Israeli security and he would return to conduct Israel's response.

The military said it was reinforcing troops in the area with two additional brigades, one infantry and one armoured, and calling up reservists for specialist units.

It said it held Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, directly responsible for firing the rocket.

Images from the scene of the rocket strike showed the house was badly damaged, its roof caved in.

Mika Lifshitz, a military spokeswoman, said it was hit by a self-manufactured rocket with a range of 120km. She said the Iron Dome anti-missile system protects the area, but could not comment on whether it was deployed.

Mr Netanyahu is in the middle of a battle for re-election with Israelis going to the polls in less than 15 days.

He has been criticized in the past by members of his own government coalition for being too "soft" on Hamas.

In November, he agreed to a mediated cease-fire with the group after a spate of rocket attacks from Gaza toward communities in southern Israel.

Political opponents have also criticized his decision to allow Qatar to deliver $15m (€13.3m) a month into Gaza to pay salaries of Hamas civil servants.

In Gaza, tensions have been rising as residents of the strip, under Israeli blockade for more than a decade, have been protesting against both their extreme poverty and Hamas's heavy-handed tactics cracking down on unrest.

This Saturday marks one year of weekly protests by Gazans at the border fence with Israel. Dubbed the Great March of Return, the protests were intended to win international recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes in Israeli territory.

Hamas used it as a tool to ramp up pressure on Israel amid stalled ceasefire talks that would have allowed more investment in Gaza.

In recent days it has sent flaming balloons into Israel, according to the army. Hamas had agreed to stop such actions under an interim deal that allowed the Qatari money in, which expires in weeks.

Domestic pressure has been building against Hamas, and analysts say the strain increases the need for the militants to deflect attention back toward Israel.

A recent UN report found that 189 Gazans were killed by Israeli forces during 2018.

It said the majority of those killed "did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot".

(© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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