JERUSALEM — The Israeli military struck at least two sites inside the Gaza Strip late Saturday, a limited attack that reportedly caused no injuries but raised concerns that a period of relative quiet following last May’s deadly war between Israel and the Hamas militant group is growing shaky.
Israel Defense Forces said that the strikes were in response to two rockets fired from Gaza earlier in the day and that Israeli helicopters, fighter jets and tanks had targeted a rocket manufacturing facility and other military sites. According to Gaza sources, the attack targeted Khan Younis in the south part of the enclave.
Forces inside the coastal enclave fired a pair of antiaircraft missiles during the attack, according to reports in Hamas-affiliated media. According to reports in Hamas-affiliated media, the IDF did not sustain any injuries and no damage to its aircraft.
The exchange follows several days of tensions that started when snipers inside of Gaza fired on Israeli contractors doing maintenance on the 65-kilometer border fence surrounding the enclave. A single civilian was injured in the attack. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, three civilian workers sustained minor injuries when Israeli tanks attacked Hamas’ positions.
Hamas did not claim responsibility for the shooting and, according to reports in local media, communicated to Egyptian go-betweens that a rogue attacker had pulled the trigger and that Hamas was not seeking to escalate the standoff.
Early on New Year’s morning, two rockets were fired from Gaza, traveling over the Mediterranean Sea where they did no damage and caused no air-raid warnings in Israeli communities, although one of the projectiles fell not far from the Tel Aviv coastline. The launch was not claimed by any group. According to Palestinian media, one Hamas official claimed that the firings occurred because of an electronic malfunction due to a winter storm. According to military analysts, rockets could have been launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad organizations that were not under Hamas control.
The IDF pinned the blame on Hamas.
“Hamas is responsible and bears the consequences for all activity in and emanating from the Gaza Strip,” the military said in statement following the late-night strikes.
The rise in tensions comes as Israel and Hamas are in negotiations, brokered by Egypt, over a lasting peace agreement. The talks are stalled over human remains and prisoners being held in Gaza by Hamas, as well other matters.
Military analysts said the sniper attack and the rocket launch may be attempts by Hamas or other Gaza militants to pressure Israel into picking up the pace of rebuilding and easing other constraints on the enclave.
Militants in Gaza also warned they would step up attacks amid reports that a Palestinian prisoner held by Israel was in danger of dying after a prolonged hunger strike. According to Israeli media reports, Hisham Abu Hawash, a suspected Islamic Jihad militant, was taken into custody more than one year ago. However, he has never been charged or tried. He has refused nourishment for almost 20 weeks.
At stake, analysts say, is an unusually long period of relative calm along the Gaza border, where the exchange of rockets and reprisals strikes are a routine part of life for both Gazans and Israelis in surrounding towns.
Since a cease fire ended the war in May, however, almost no attacks have been launched by either side. Recent exchanges have revealed that military and political leaders boasted they had achieved some level of deterrence against Gaza in the last weeks.
“It appears that Israel neglected to inform Gazans of the changes in its talking points,” Ha’aretz military analyst Amos Heral wrote Saturday.
Hazem Balousha contributed from Gaza City.