Israel Strikes Hamas Targets in Gaza After Rockets Fired Amid Shaky Truce

Friday night's rockets fired by Hamas operatives without orders to do so, Israeli defense sources believe ■ Palestinian factions met, declared unity ■ Hamas stayed out of week's round of violence between Islamic Jihad and Israel

A rocket interception above the city of Ashkelon, November 2019.
Ilan Assayag

The rockets intercepted over the southern Israeli city of Be'er Sheva Friday night were fired by Hamas operatives, defense officials said, in contrast to the hundreds of rockets fired over the week by Islamic Jihad.

Israel struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip early on Saturday following the rocket fire from the Strip, after the group stayed out of this week's round of fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad. Security officials are of the opinion that the rockets launches were not ordered by Hamas leadership, but were rather the work of lone Hamas operatives. 

Haaretz WeeklyHaaretz

The Hamas-run TV channel Al-Aqsa reported that a site belonging to the group in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, was attacked, as was a naval police compound in Gaza City. The Israeli army said that underground infrastructure was targeted as well. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The Israel Defense Forces, which had not struck Hamas targets over the course of the week's escalation, said of the strike: "Hamas is responsible for what is carried out in the Gaza Strip, and will bear the consequences."  

The strikes came hours after two rockets were intercepted in in the area surrounding the major southern city of Be'er Sheva. 

A cease-fire between Israel and the Islamic Jihad group went into effect on Thursday, ending two days of fighting ignited by Israel’s targeted killing of one of the Iran-backed militant group’s top Gaza commanders. The fighting killed 34 Palestinians, including 16 civilians, according to rights groups. Hamas stayed on the sidelines, and Israel did not attack targets linked to the group. 

Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported Saturday morning that Islamic Jihad and Hamas military leaders met in the past two days to assess the situation and draw conclusions following the round of violence. The meeting remained practical, the report said, even as both sides exchanged criticism, and the two factions agreed to continue cooperating while sharing a war room.     

Senior Islamic Jihad member Khader Habib said the two factions have united to form one front, and will not "allow anyone to put a wedge between them." The discussion strengthened the groups' assessment that the relative quiet will not hold, the report added, due to what they describe as Israel's methodical violations of the agreements made between the country and the Palestinian factions in Gaza.

Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh's bureau said that Haniyeh spoke with his Islamic Jihad counterpart Ziad al-Nakhalah on Friday night, where they pledged to continue cooperation between the two factions.

Hamas's Al-Aqsa channel broadcast a picture Friday night of Islamic Jihad leaders, including family members of Baha Abu al-Ata, visiting Hamas official Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar in an apparent display of unity between the factions. Tensions have run high between the factions in the Strip over the course of the week's conflict, and Hamas leaders were met with screams and opposition while visiting mourners' tents.  

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior member of Hamas' s political bureau, said that the alleged praise heaped on Hamas by Israeli officials for not getting involved in the fighting served the purpose of "maliciously dividing" Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He added that there are those who took Israeli officials' words to heart, and warned that Gazans "must take care in their relation to these statements."

Islamic Jihad fired at least 450 rockets into Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday, most of which landed in open areas or were intercepted. Sporadic rocket fired continued Thursday after the cease-fire was announced, followed by Israeli strikes that resulted in no casualties. 

The Israeli airstrikes this week included one overnight Wednesday that killed eight members of a Palestinian family. The strike targeted a Gaza building that appeared in an outdated target database, and it was carried out without prior inspection of civilian presence at the site.

The building where the family lived was on a list of potential targets, but Israeli defense officials confirmed to Haaretz that it had not been looked at over the past year or checked prior to the attack.

Jack Khoury and The Associated Press contributed to this report.