GAZA CITY, Palestine: Israeli warplanes pounded 29 Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip Thursday night in response to heavy Palestinian rocket fire into the Jewish state earlier, the military said.
Palestinian eyewitnesses, including an AFP photographer, said warplanes had hit bases of the strip’s Hamas rulers and the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, the Al-Quds Brigades, which had claimed responsibility for firing dozens of rockets into Israel.
“In today’s attack 41 rockets struck in Israel, [of which] five hit populated areas,” an army statement said.
“In response to the massive rocket attack that hit Israel earlier this evening, the Israeli air force targeted 29 terror sites in the Gaza Strip. Direct hits were confirmed,” it said.
“This retaliation was precise and prompt. We targeted the infrastructure that serves the terrorists while they train, plan and implement their hideous attacks,” it quoted Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, the chief military spokesman, as saying.
Al-Quds said it fired 90 rockets at Israel in response to an airstrike Tuesday that killed three of its militants in southern Gaza.
An Israeli security source told AFP that the tally was more than 60 rockets and mortar rounds.The strikes, which sent tens of thousands of Israelis in the south to seek shelter, were the biggest wave of attacks since a major eight-day November 2012 confrontation between Israel and Hamas.
There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side Wednesday.
Hamas personnel, including its military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, had earlier evacuated all their bases, Gaza security sources said.
The earlier Al-Quds barrage, which Israel said came from several sites, prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to warn of a tough response.
The escalation in violence came just hours after British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived on his first official visit to the region.
Police raised the level of alert in the south, saying the rockets struck along the length of Israel’s border with Gaza.
One hit near a public library in the town of Sderot, and another near a gas station.
The attack began shortly after Netanyahu and Cameron addressed parliament and prompted a stern warning from the Israeli leader, who pledged to act “with great force” against those seeking to harm Israel, a statement from his office said.
Later, Netanyahu warned those in Gaza again.
“If there won’t be quiet in the south there will be noise in Gaza, and this is an understatement,” he said, in remarks relayed by his office.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon ordered the closure from Thursday of the Kerem Shalom goods crossing between Israel and Gaza and the Erez pedestrian crossing “until further security assessments,” a military statement said.
“This is the biggest attack on Israel since the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense,” the military tweeted, referring to the 2012 confrontation that claimed the lives of 177 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and six Israelis.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Channel 2 television that Israel would have no choice but to reoccupy Gaza.
In Gaza, the Al-Quds Brigades issued a statement saying its bombardment would continue in response to Israel’s “aggression” in Tuesday’s airstrike.
Hamas warned Israel against escalating the confrontation.
“We hold the occupation responsible, we warn of the consequences of any escalation and we reiterate that resistance is the right of the Palestinian people to defend itself,” said Ihab al-Ghassin, a spokesman for Hamas, which governs Gaza.