JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel struck Hamas militant targets in Gaza early Wednesday in response to rocket fire toward Israeli communities overnight, the military said, the latest flare-up following the release of the Trump administration's Mideast plan, which the Palestinians have fiercely rejected.
The military said it targeted a Hamas weapons manufacturing site; no casualties were reported in Gaza. The exchange comes amid an uptick in cross-border rocket and "explosive balloon" launches from the Hamas-controlled territory, as well as violent protests in the West Bank.
The Gaza Strip has been relatively calm in recent months as part of an informal truce between its Hamas rulers and Israel, but tension has increased since President Donald Trump unrolled his favorable plan for Israel last week.
Under the plan, Israel would be allowed to annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley. The Palestinians were offered limited self-rule in Gaza, parts of the West Bank and some sparsely populated areas of Israel in return for meeting a long list of conditions. The Palestinians, as well as much of the international community, view the settlements in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem — territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war — as illegal and a major obstacle to peace.
Hamas had recently curbed rocket fire from Gaza and rolled back weekly protests along the frontier that had often turned violent. In return, Israel eased the blockade it imposed with Egypt on Gaza after the Islamic militant group seized power from forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority in 2007.
Hamas rejected the Trump plan and vowed that “all options are open” in responding to the proposal, but the group is not believed to be seeking another war with Israel.
In the West Bank, Palestinians have held scattered protests in recent days condemning the Trump initiative, burning U.S. and Israeli flags and posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Firebombs have been hurled at Israeli troops, with one exploding on a solider, who was only lightly wounded. The Israeli military has thus far instructed its troops to “contain” the protests and not respond forcefully, for fear that any Palestinian casualties would set off further violence.
Following the latest rocket fire, the military said it viewed the incident with “great severity and is prepared for various scenarios.”
Also Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority announced it has stopped importing Israeli vegetables, fruits, beverages and mineral water — the latest step in a brewing trade war with Israel that began in September, when the Palestinians decided to stop importing beef from Israel. The P.A. claimed most of the 120,000 heads of cattle the Palestinians import monthly from Israel was itself imported and that they therefore prefer to import directly from abroad. However, the Palestinians are likely trying to detach their economy from dependence on Israel.
Shortly after the September announcement, Israeli cattle ranchers saw a drop in their market and pressured Israeli authorities to take action. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett retaliated with a counter ban on Palestinian beef and other products, triggering the Palestinians to expand their boycott as well.
The Palestinian minister of economy, Khaled al-Osaily, said the latest decision was meant to pressure Israel into revoking its ban on importing vegetables. He said the P.A. annually imports from Israel some $300 million worth of fruits and vegetables while exporting only $55 million.
“We told them this decision has come as a response to the Israeli decision and will be revoked the moment they (Israelis) back off,” al-Osaily said. "We have chosen these products since we have an alternative or we can live without them.”
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.