Israel Strikes Gaza Targets After Rocket Intercepted Over Southern Israel

Gaza-based ISIS affiliate claims responsibility for Grad rocket fire into Israel - the first such rocket to be fired at Ashdod since 2014 conflict.

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Israel's Iron Dome defense system firing to intercept incoming missiles.
Israel's Iron Dome defense system firing to intercept incoming missiles.Credit: AP

Israeli air force planes struck a number of targets in Gaza overnight Tuesday in response to a rocket fired from the Strip at the southern Israel city of Ashdod earlier Tuesday. The rocket was intercepted by the Iron Defense air defense system and no damage or casualties were caused. 

The Grad-type rocket was the first rocket to be fired from Gaza at Ashdod since the summer conflict between Gaza and Israel ended in August 2014. 

The radical Salafist group the Omar Hadid Brigade, which is affiliated with ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attack, despite initial assessments that the Islamic Jihad was behind the rocket fire.

On its twitter account, the group said that the rocket fire was retribution for the death of Hadeel al-Hashlamun, a 19-year-old Palestinian woman who was shot dead after attempting to stab a soldier near Hebron last week, and in honor of Iman Kanjou, an Israeli Arab mother of five who faces charges for allegedly attempting to join ISIS.

A picture taken from the Israeli Gaza border shows smoke billowing from the Gaza Strip following an Israeli air strike on July 16, 2014.Credit: AFP

According to a statement by the Israeli military, air force planes targeted four sites in Gaza, all tied to Hamas, which the IDF considers responsible for the Strip. "The IDF will not accept any fire into Israel's territory by terror groups and will continue to respond with severity to any attempt to break the calm in the south. The terrorist organization Hamas responsible," the Israeli army said in a statement.

The incident comes a little over a week after a rocket fired from Gaza exploded in an open area in Hof Ashkelon Regional Council in southern Israel, in an attack also claimed by the group.

Tuesday's incident involved a long-range rocket, pointing to the Islamic Jihad, which has Grads in its arsenal. 

In previous incidents, Israel responded with limited air strikes, mostly targeting Hamas sites. Rocket fire by Salafist groups has occurred once every few weeks since the 2014 conflict, and is usually perpetrated as a defiant act against Hamas as part of the internal struggle between the group and the smaller Palestinian factions.

Such an attack could also be linked to others factors, like increasing pressure on Gaza by Egypt – which has in recent weeks continued its crackdown on smuggling tunnels running from Sinai's Rafah into Gaza by intentionally flooding them. Tensions in Gaza have also been spurred by a string of power outages that have left the majority of Gazans without electricity for almost 15 hours a day.

Though most of the blame is being aimed at Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (as much as at ongoing dispute between them), such tensions have a history of boiling over into violence against Israel, especially in regards to the recent escalation in Jerusalem over the Temple Mount. Tuesday was also the 15th anniversary of Second Intifada.

Israeli military intelligence believe that Hamas' Gaza leadership is still interested in maintaining the calm and is working to reign in smaller terrorists organization, fearing an additional conflict with Israel.