Jerusalem: Israel carried out retaliatory strikes on Gaza Saturday killing a Palestinian and wounding two others, following two nights of rocket attacks that were the first since September.
Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, denounced a “serious escalation” and said Israel will be held “responsible for the consequences” of the raids.
Dozens of pre-dawn strikes targeted Hamas bases and those of allied militant groups, a Gaza security source said.
The Israeli army said the strikes targeted “a wide range of Hamas terror targets”, including a naval base, a military compound and a weapons manufacturing plant.
The Hamas-run health ministry identified the person killed as Ahmed al-Shehri, 27. It did not say whether he was affiliated with any armed group. Two other Palestinians were seriously wounded, the ministry said.
Hundreds of Palestinians attended Shehri’s funeral on Saturday in the southern Gaza Strip, an AFP correspondent said.
The sound of explosions had been heard across the tiny but densely populated territory, AFP correspondents said.
After daybreak, curious onlookers gathered around a large crater scooped out of the sandy soil by the force of one of the blasts.
A Hamas source said it had fired at the Israeli aircraft carrying out the raids and the Israeli military confirmed fresh “incoming fire”.
“The Zionist enemy bears full responsibility for the consequences,” of the pre-dawn air raids, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement.
He said the strikes targeted “innocent civilians” and represented a “serious escalation”.
- Sworn enemies –
The strikes came after at least 10 rockets were fired from Gaza at southern Israel late Friday causing damage but no casualties.
Local officials in Gaza said installations of Islamic Jihad, another prominent militant group operating in the coastal enclave, were also hit.
The Israeli military said eight of the rockets were intercepted by air defences.
Air raid sirens sounded in Israeli communities near the border.
One family’s house was hit, without causing any casualties, the army said, posting a picture of damage to a building on Twitter.
It was the second consecutive evening that the army reported rocket fire from Gaza, shattering a calm that had lasted since September 12.
In August, a spate of rocket attacks, retaliatory air strikes and clashes along the border had raised fears of an escalation as a general election approached in Israel.
Those polls — Israel’s second general election this year — took place on September 17, but have yet to yield a new government.
Sworn enemies Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the Palestinian enclave since 2008.
Analysts say a fourth round remains likely.
- Crippling blockade –
There have been repeated bouts of violence between Hamas and Israel over the past year as the Islamists have sought to improve on the terms of a UN- and Egyptian-brokered truce first hammered out in November last year.
In return for Hamas silencing the rockets, Israel agreed a package of measures to ease the crippling blockade it has imposed on Gaza for more than a decade.
They included allowing in millions of dollars in aid from Hamas ally Qatar to pay for fuel for the territory’s sole power station and cash for salaries and grants to tens of thousands of needy families.
The truce has also seen Israel expand the distance it allows Gaza fishermen out into the Mediterranean — although the Jewish state reduces it or even cuts it to zero in response to violence from the enclave.
The concessions authorised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been criticised by his opponents, including by his challenger for the premiership, centrist former military chief Benny Gantz.
Gantz called a renewal of the truce agreed by Netanyahu in May “capitulation to blackmail”.
The Palestinians have also pressed on with weekly demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel border first launched in March last year.
The protests have frequently drawn live fire from Israeli forces stationed along the heavily fortified border fence.
More than 90 Palestinians were wounded in this Friday’s demonstrations, the health ministry said.