JERUSALEM — The Israeli military said that it struck more than 100 targets in Gaza overnight Friday after two rockets were fired toward Tel Aviv, escalating tension less than a month before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces reelection.
Residents reported hearing explosions, but there were no reports of injuries or damage. The military said neither rocket was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome military defense system, though warning systems had operated as required.
The Israeli military said it believed Hamas was responsible. Israeli media reported that their initial assessment was that the group launched the rockets by mistake.
One rocket probably fell into the sea, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai told Israeli television. He said he had instructed the city to open all bomb shelters, but life appeared to be returning to normal shortly after the incident.
While rocket launches from Gaza are not unusual, it was the first time in more than four years that they have targeted the major city of Tel Aviv. Israel and Hamas fought a 50-day conflict in the summer of 2014.
Netanyahu called an emergency meeting with top security officials, after which Israel mounted its response.
In the early hours of Friday morning the Israeli military said it was targeting “terror sites” in the Gaza Strip, striking around 100 military sites belonging to Hamas, including the main site used to manufacture standard grade rockets.
Seven more rocket launches followed, six of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome.
The escalation on Thursday followed a day of unrest in Gaza, where Hamas, the militant group that controls the Palestinian enclave, had forcibly put down demonstrations against deteriorating living conditions. Some analysts speculated that Hamas might have been trying to cause a distraction.
Others pointed the finger at Islamic Jihad, the second largest militant organization in Gaza, saying the group may have been trying to disrupt efforts by Egypt to broker a truce between Hamas and Israel. An Egyptian delegation had arrived in Gaza on Thursday evening.
No group immediately claimed responsibility. Islamic Jihad denied that it was behind the attack. Hamas also denied responsibility, pointing out the attack took place at the same time the group’s leaders were meeting with Egyptian officials to discuss the cease-fire. It said it would find the perpetrators and called off its weekly Friday demonstration at the fence with Israel.
Netanyahu last year was criticized by members of his own government coalition for being soft on Hamas by agreeing to a cease-fire with that group after a spate of rocket attacks from Gaza toward communities in southern Israel. His political opponents have also criticized Netanyahu’s decision to allow Qatar to deliver $15 million a month into Gaza to pay salaries of Hamas civil servants.
Yaakov Amidror, a retired major general and former national security adviser, said he believed Netanyahu was “experienced and sober enough” that electoral pressure would not be a factor in determining his response. “There is no real argument in the Jewish community about the need to react,” he said on a conference call with journalists.
Israel normally holds Hamas responsible for any violence emanating from Gaza, regardless of which group perpetrated the attack.
President Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, reacted on Twitter, saying, “Hamas violently suppresses its own people demonstrating against Hamas’ rule & failures today and NOW fires rockets at cities in Israel. OUTRAGEOUS!”
Hazem Balousha in Gaza City contributed to this report.