Israeli Military Strikes 18 Hamas Targets in Gaza in Response to Day of Hostilities

The retaliatory attack follows another 'large-scale' strike; it comes after Israel was hit by rocket fire and four soldiers were wounded in an explosion near the border

Israeli soldiers stand at the house that was hit by a rocket fired from Gaza, Shaar Hagenev Regional Council, Israel, February 17, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Israeli military said early Sunday morning that it attacked 18 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, the second such action by Israel in less than 24 hours. The attacks was in response to an explosive device going off on the border with Israel and to rocket fire.

A rocket fired from the Strip on Saturday hit the roof of a house in an Israeli town after sirens sounded in several communities near the border. Rocket sirens sounded multiple times during the night.

According to the army, the latest rocket sirens, which souded earlier on Sunday morning, were activated during the IDF's aerial attacks on the Strip and were a false alarm. 

The damaged roof of a home that was struck by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, Israel, February 16, 2018.

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The military said that eight of the targets it attacked were located in a Hamas military compound, where the group stores weapon, manufacturing infrastructures and carries out training.

The army also said that an tank attacked two Hamas observation posts.

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Earlier, the army said it struck six Hamas targets in Gaza in what it described as a "large-scale attack." The military said the targets included a Hamas attack tunnel reaching from Gaza into Israeli territory and two military compounds. 

Israeli army soldiers stand near the site of the explosion by the Gaza border, February 17, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said that two people were injured moderately as a result of the Israeli attacks and were transferred to receive medical care at a hospital in Rafah. Palestinian rescue forces, the ministry said, were scouting an area east of Rafah that they said was hit by Israeli artillery fire.

IED explodes on Gaza border

Israeli soldiers who were wounded when a device exploded near Israel's border with Gaza are evacuated to a nearby hospital, February 17, 2018.

Earlier on Saturday, four Israeli soldiers were wounded – two seriously and two others moderately – when a device exploded near the troops at the fence bordering the southern Gaza Strip. The wounded soldiers were evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva with burns and shrapnel injuries.

According to the IDF, the incident unfolded when soldiers from the Golani Brigade and the Engineering Corps approached the border fence after noticing a Palestinian flag hung in its vicinity. After the soldiers approached the flag, the device exploded. Two tunnels originating in the Strip and extending into Israeli territory were found in the past near the site.

The military believes that the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza, an umbrella group made up of militants from different armed factions, hung the flag there during Friday's demonstration in order to attract the soldiers. The committee described the explosion as "a heroic act in response to the enemy's infiltration into the Gaza Strip."

An Islamic Jihad spokesman responded to the exchanges of fire later on Saturday, stating ironically that "the land of Gaza will not serve as picnic [grounds] for the forces of the enemy. The sons of Gaza will respond with rage to the Israeli aggression and the continuation of the siege [on Gaza.]"

Israeli forces near the site of the explosion by the Gaza border, February 17, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Popular Resistance Committee was founded during the second intifada. The organization, which operates within the Strip, was behind several terror attacks in the past. Today the group is considered to be a protégé of Hamas and requires the latter's approval for every action it takes.

However, despite the fact that both the Popular Resistance Committee and the Islamic Jihad expressed their support following the incident, it is not believed that their statements convey that the groups stand behind the events.

Following the incident, The IDF said it attacked an observation post in the southern Gaza Strip with tank fire. IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said the incident is "very serious" and "could undermine stability in the region." Manelis added that the IDF holds Hamas responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip.

According to Palestinian reports, Israeli warplanes struck various targets in and around Gaza City. Shortly later, Palestinian reports said Israel had carried out an additional strike on a Hamas compound, while a third report spoke of shots fired toward an agricultural area in southern Gaza. Hamas said it "holds Israel responsible for any escalation in the Gaza Strip."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the explosion that wounded four soldiers, describing it as "severe." The premier vowed that Israel "will respond appropriately." IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot met with the head of the IDF's Southern Command and other senior officials to assess the situation.

Last Friday, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported that over 20 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli soldiers during the demonstration, one of them seriously. The previous Friday, the ministry said that 57 people were wounded in clashes throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, one of them with suffering grave injuries after being shot with live fire near the Gaza border.

Last month, the Israeli air force destroyed an attack tunnel extending from the coastal enclase into Israeli and Egyptian territory – the fourth such tunnel destroyed in recent months.

Eisenkot warned the cabinet last week that the worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza could draw Hamas and Israel into a fresh confrontation. Eisenkot called on the government to take substantial steps to head off a collapse of the situation in the Strip. His warning echoed previous statements made by other Israeli security officials.

A few days later, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman contradicted Eisenkot's assessment, saying there was no humanitarian crisis in the Strip. "The economic state is complicated and must be dealt with, but there's no humanitarian crisis," Lieberman told members of his Yisrael Beiteinu party.

In January, Israel presented a plan for the humanitarian rehabilitation of Gaza, along with a request to the international community to fund it, to an emergency conference in Brussels of countries and organizations providing financial assistance to the Palestinians. The plan, which would cost an estimated billion dollars, would feature Israeli assistance in building infrastructure related to desalination, electricity and natural gas and the upgrading of the industrial zone at the Erez border crossing into Gaza.