Israel pressed Hamas on Wednesday to rein in rocket-firing militants in the Gaza Strip after the most serious outbreak of cross-border hostilities since the ceasefire that ended an eight-day war in November.
The flare-up, sparked by anger in Gaza over Tuesday’s death from cancer of a Palestinian prisoner held by Israel, included the first Israeli air strike in the Hamas-run enclave since the truce.
By afternoon, the frontier had fallen quiet, an indication that Israel and Hamas were weighing their moves carefully after four months of relative calm that has enabled Gaza residents to rebuild and Israelis near the border to live without the familiar blaring of sirens warning of incoming rockets.
The Israeli military said two rockets fired from Gaza had struck southern Israel in a morning attack on Wednesday, causing no casualties, hours after its planes targeted “two extensive terror sites” in the north of the territory.
Israel launched the air strike after three rockets hit its south on Tuesday. An al Qaeda-linked group, Magles Shoura al-Mujahadeen, claimed responsibility for that attack and Wednesday’s salvo, saying it was responding to the death of the 64-year-old prisoner, Maysara Abu Hamdeya.
Tuesday was the third time since the November truce that rockets from Gaza had struck Israel.
But with a new government and defence minister now in place after weeks of coalition-building since a January election, Israel seemed keen to show resolve, putting the onus on Hamas to prevent any rocket fire.
“(Israel’s armed forces) decided to attack overnight in order to signal to Hamas that we will not suffer any strike on the south. And any shooting will meet a response, in order to restore quiet for the south soon,” Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, the chief military spokesman, said on Army Radio.
“I assess that Hamas has no interest in seeing the situation deteriorate,” he said. “Our goal is to maintain the quiet.”