Underground rocket production site. (photo credit: IDF)
IDF fighter jets and combat helicopters attacked around 100 Hamas terrorist targets throughout the Gaza Strip in the predawn hours of Friday, in retaliation to the launching of two rockets at Tel Aviv the night before.
According to the IDF, one of the targets was the Hamas headquarters in the Rimal neighborhood in central Gaza City which the military said was responsible for directing Hamas terrorist operatives in the West Bank. The headquarters, the IDF said, was from where Hamas helped facilitate – with logistic and financial assistance – terrorist operations in the West Bank.
Another target, the IDF said, was Hamas’s main rocket production facility. This was an underground site which Hamas used to independently manufacture sophisticated rockets in the Gaza Strip.
In addition, several military compounds were attacked, including a Hamas naval force post that the IDF said was also used to manufacture weapons. Outposts and a number of underground infrastructures were likewise attacked.
“The IDF views with great severity any attempt to harm Israeli civilians and will continue to act vigorously against these terrorist acts,” the IDF spokesperson said.
The Israeli Air Force began striking targets in Gaza overnight Friday in retaliation for two rockets that had been fired at Tel Aviv Thursday night. This was the first such attack since the 2014 war.
Palestinian sources told international media outlets that the attacks were taking place in the southern Gaza Strip and focused on Hamas targets in Rafah and Khan Yunis.
The army confirmed that it was Hamas that launched the rockets at the center of the country. Though, according to Palestinian sources, the IDF struck several Islamic Jihad targets, as well.
“Hamas carried out the rocket fire against Tel Aviv yesterday evening,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee, the IDF spokesman for the Arabic language media.
Hamas denied involvement, saying the launches took place as its leaders met Egyptian delegates about efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire with Israel.
A red alert was heard in the Eshkol Regional Council at around the same time that the overnight airs strikes began. A second red alert was activated in the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council and Sdot Negev Regional Council soon after. The Iron Dome defense system intercepted one of the rockets.
Many more red alerts sounded Friday morning as rockets were aimed at the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, Ashkelon beach and Sderot. The Iron Dome intercepted some of the rockets. There were no reported casualties.
There was no immediate word of casualties in the air strikes that hit the Gaza buildings either. Further, it was reported that those buildings had been used by the dominant Islamist group’s security forces, but that they had been evacuated as a precaution before the strikes.
Witnesses said powerful explosions from the air strikes rocked buildings in Gaza and lit the skies over targeted sites.
The Israeli military said it was targeting “terror sites” in Gaza.
On Palestinian social media, residents of Gaza were posting sarcastic comments, such as, “Welcome to the morning of the boom.”
Late Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting of the security cabinet at the Kiriya in Tel Aviv to discuss Israel’s response. Among those participating were Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen Aviv Kochavi, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) head Nadav Argaman, and other senior security establishment officials.
Hours before, sirens howled in Tel Aviv, set off by what the military said were two incoming, longer-range rockets from Gaza.
That salvo caused no casualties or damage, missing built-up areas. But it rattled Israeli nerves ahead of an April 9 election in which Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term on the strength of his national security credentials.
According to the IDF, although the Iron Dome missile defense system was activated, but there were no interceptions as both rockets fell in open territory.
Several Israelis were treated for shock.
As the retaliation began, politicians and supporters from around the world reacted in support of Israel.
US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) slammed the Hamas terrorist group, for example, saying it is responsible for “unceasing attacks on Israeli civilians launched from the Gaza Strip.
“Our Israeli allies have an absolute right to self-defense, “ he said. “The United States should do whatever possible to bolster that defense.”
US special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt likewise blasted Hamas in a series of tweets.
“More attempted rockets from Gaza-reports say rockets fell short-inside Gaza,” he wrote. “Presumably all responsible countries/international orgs will condemn attacks/confirm Israel’s right to defend. Anything else is tone deaf – to Israelis, Palestinians & to peace. Time to wake up folks!”
He followed that tweet with another one, noting that “Hamas, PIJ and PFLP are all running for the hills (tunnels) denying responsibility for the rockets tonight. Separately, Hamas violently put down anti-Hamas demonstrations today in Gaza with live bullets, beatings and detentions. Hamas causes much suffering in Gaza!,” Greenblatt wrote.
The European Union’s Ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, condemned the Hamas rocket attack on Tel Aviv.
“Following developments with grave concern,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that “targeting civilian areas [is] unacceptable.”
Despite the air strikes, Palestinians report they are planning to protest at the border fence on Friday.
Israeli media said Egypt will likely try to broker a ceasefire on Friday between Israel and Hamas.
Hagay Hacohen and Reuters contributed to this story.