No immediate report of casualties in early morning strike on Islamic Jihad, Hamas sites after rocket fired from strip hits near Ashdod
(SOURCE) The Israeli Air Force launched airstrikes on the Gaza Strip early Wednesday morning, hours after a projectile fired from the coastal enclave fell in southern Israel for the first time in weeks.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in the bombardments near the cities of Rafah and Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip.
Unconfirmed reports by a Reuters correspondent on the ground in the Gaza Strip said that the IAF targeted Islamic Jihad and Hamas training facilities.
The IDF didn’t immediately have comment about the reports.
Although Hamas did not take credit for the rocket fire, and sources in the Gaza Strip said the rocket was likely fired by members of the Islamic Jihad, Israel had maintained that it holds the governing terror group responsible for all attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip.
At least one rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit southern Israel on Tuesday night, shortly after 9 p.m. as alarms sounded across the region, the Israeli army said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the rocket, which landed near the town of Gan Yavneh, outside Ashdod, according to an IDF statement.
The projectile — a Grad missile — was located minutes after sirens sounded in the Lachish region and Ashdod.
It was unclear how many rockets were shot at Israel from Gaza. According to the IDF, initial signs pointed to one, though other reports put the nubmer as high as five.
Many residents of southern Israel reported hearing multiple blasts.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility from Hamas or other terror groups in the coastal enclave.
However, an Israeli official said Jerusalem holds Hamas responsible for all attacks launched from the enclave, and the group was reportedly evacuating buildings and bases Tuesday night ahead of an expected Israeli retaliation.
A source in Gaza said the firing was the result of an internal dispute inside the Islamic Jihad terror group, which has included kidnappings of people in northern Gaza.
The source said Islamic Jihad recently appointed a new commander to oversee the northern region of the coastal enclave.
The new commander was supposed to start his new position today officially, but his predecessor opposed it, sparking clashes between the two commanders’ supporters.
The new commander’s men then kidnapped two operatives working under the former commander and, in retaliation, the predecessor’s followers decided to fire rockets at Israel.
Hamas security forces are now searching the area from which the rockets were launched and have detained several suspects, according to the source.
According to the Ynet news website, the attack marked the first time a Grad rocket, which can go farther than the smaller Kassams more commonly shot out of Gaza, had been fired at Israel since the summer war.
In response to the rocket fire, Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman said the current government must commit to toppling Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, or risk appearing “weak.”
“A government that is not willing to write as part of its guidelines that it intends to destroy the Hamas regime in Gaza is a government that displays weakness,” said the former foreign minister, who had pushed to retake the Gaza Strip during the summer operation. “If it does not pull itself together now it might as well end its rule now, immediately after it began, for the benefit of the citizens of Israel and the strength of the state.”
Likud’s Miri Regev also maintained Hamas was responsible for the rocket fire.
“It’s too bad Hamas is trying to deteriorate the security situation in the south,” she said. “Israel must respond to every [rocket] attack on the citizens of Israel.”
Since Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire in August 2014 — which put a halt to the 50-day war in Gaza — the IDF has reported on numerous instances of weapons tests within the Gaza Strip, some of which triggered false alarms in Israel’s southern communities around the coastal enclave.
There have also been several cases of isolated rocket fire from the Strip apparently directed at Israel.
The last barrage took place on April 23, as Israel’s Independence Day celebrations came to a close.
Israel is wary of Gaza terrorist groups rearming after Operation Protective Edge. The IDF says Hamas has been conducting test launches in recent months, in order to increase its rocket-launching capabilities.
Itamar Sharon and Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.