Israel responded with airstrikes Saturday after a salvo of rockets fired by militants from the Gaza Strip into its territory overnight, saying it held Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, responsible for the flare-up and that it had evidence that the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard was behind the latest escalation.
Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said military jets had struck more than 80 targets across the Palestinian enclave, including command posts, weapons manufacturing facilities and a four-floor building housing Hamas’ general security agency.
“We hold Hamas responsible for everything coming from Gaza,” Conricus said. “All violence and provocations are Hamas’ responsibility. The humanitarian improvements made recently should have caused Hamas to rein in the terror, but it allows a violent atmosphere to continue.”
It has been Israel’s long-standing policy to hold Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza and is viewed as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, responsible for each round of violence, even if other Gaza-based factions claim responsibility for the attacks.
Conricus said the army was aware that Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second-largest militant group, was behind the latest round of rockets. He said the group was working “under guidance, instruction and incentives from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Quds force, based in Damascus.”
The army later said eight of the targets it struck belonged to the group.
Islamic Jihad immediately took responsibility for firing the rockets, saying it was in response to the “continuing coldblooded killing by the Israeli occupation and the continued shedding of the blood of peaceful civilians.” On Saturday morning, the group issued an additional statement announcing a ceasefire.
Earlier Friday, Hamas’ Health Ministry in Gaza said Israeli forces killed six Palestinians involved in the ongoing protests at the border fence. Since March, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, as thousands of Gaza residents make their way to the fence each week to protest the ever-deteriorating humanitarian conditions for the strip’s 2 million residents and the decade-long land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.
Israel views the protests as riots and says its response is a justified defense of Israeli civilians living in the Gaza periphery. It has accused Hamas of using the mass protests as a cover to infiltrate into Israel and carry out terrorist attacks.
“We are not the aggressors; we are defending our civilians,” Conricus said.
He said Friday night’s rockets had not caused any casualties on the Israeli side, with most intercepted by the Iron Dome defense systems or falling in open areas. A mortar, however, reportedly caused extensive damage to the Erez crossing, the main passage between Israel and Gaza used for humanitarian purposes.
One Israeli soldier was killed in July by sniper fire from Gaza, and during last week’s flare-up a family home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva was destroyed.
There are indications that Egypt and some European states are involved in ongoing mediation between the sides, but they have yet to yield results.
In its statement, Islamic Jihad said it was Israel that “had not respected the laws and customs and continues to manipulate the lives of people under constant siege.”
In recent months, Islamic Jihad has faced a severe financial crisis, failing to pay its workers or fighters. The group has relied heavily on funding from Iran in the past but now Israel’s archenemy has looked on disapprovingly as the faction in Gaza works to reach a long-term arrangement with Israel — via indirect negotiations brokered by Egypt — to restore calm.
The group also recently elected a new secretary-general, Ziad Nakhaleh, who is said to have close ties to the Iranian regime.
Balousha contributed to this report from Gaza City.