Palestinian militants fired a rocket at Israel late Tuesday despite a ceasefire announced by Hamas, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was prepared for further military action in Gaza.
The flare-up began early Monday with a rare long-distance rocket strike from the Gaza Strip that hit a house north of Tel Aviv, wounding seven Israelis.
The Israeli military hit back with a series of air strikes across the enclave into the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday and Palestinian militants launched new rockets despite Hamas claiming Egypt had brokered a ceasefire.
Calm returned shortly after dawn and prevailed throughout the day.
The Israeli army announced that restrictions it had imposed on civilians — including cancelling school and prohibiting gatherings — had been lifted.
There were no immediate reports of any damage or casualties from the latest projectile, which the army said was fired at around 8:00 pm (1800 GMT).
Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other groups said “the rocket that hit near Ashkelon was the work of an individual and the factions are committed to calm” as long as Israel is.
A security source in Gaza said an air strike hit a Hamas military base in Khan Yunis following the projectile launch at Israel.
There were no deaths on either side, but seven Israelis and seven Palestinians were wounded in the escalation at a highly sensitive time ahead of Israel’s April 9 elections.
Israel’s retaliatory strikes began around the same time Netanyahu met US President Donald Trump in Washington.
Netanyahu, who cut short his US visit, said “we are prepared to do a lot more”.
“We will do what is necessary to defend our people and to defend our state,” he said via satellite link to pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference.
The army said later that after a situation assessment with Netanyahu, military chief of staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kohavi ordered more forces be sent to the southern region.
Kohavi also “approved completing the summoning of additional reserve soldiers,” a statement from the military read, without providing further details.
The prime minister is widely believed to want to avoid a fourth war in Gaza since 2008 with unpredictable consequences ahead of the elections, but he is also under heavy political pressure.
‘Clear the house’
During its raids, the Israeli army said it struck 15 fresh targets, including what it called a Hamas military compound and an Islamic Jihad position.
It had reported late-night mortar fire and 30 new rocket launches from Gaza, on top of 30 rockets detected earlier Monday evening.
Some of the rockets fired at Israel were intercepted by air defences while others hit uninhabited areas.
A house in the southern Israeli town of Sderot was damaged by a rocket.
A security source in Gaza said there had been a total of around 80 Israeli strikes.
The coastal enclave was rocked by explosions and fireballs rose into the sky in Gaza City.
In Gaza, Raed al-Qahtawi, whose home was damaged in an Israeli strike on Hamas leader Ismail Haniya’s office, said he received a warning call from Hamas authorities beforehand.
“We were sitting in the house and then they called us and told us to clear the house immediately,” he said.
In response to the rocket fire, Israel sent reinforcements to the Gaza area and announced a limited call up of reservists.
It also closed its people and goods crossing with the blockaded enclave and reduced the zone in the Mediterranean it allows for Palestinian fishermen.
Netanyahu said it was the largest-scale attack on Hamas sites since the last war between them in 2014.
Following those strikes, militants in Gaza fired a barrage of rockets in response and air raid sirens wailed in southern Israel.
A joint statement from militant groups in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, took responsibility for those rockets.
Hamas then announced Egypt had brokered the ceasefire — as it has repeatedly in the past — but Israel did not confirm it.
Israeli media quoted an unnamed official saying Israel had not accepted any ceasefire.
Israel’s army blamed Hamas for the rocket that hit the house Monday in the community of Mishmeret, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Tel Aviv.
A Hamas official however denied the group was responsible for that rocket and indicated it may have been fired by accident or even due to “bad weather”.
The hospital that treated the wounded said the seven Israelis were injured lightly by burns and shrapnel, including three children.
Even if Israel and Hamas manage to implement the ceasefire announced Monday, more tensions are likely on the horizon.
Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of protests and clashes along the Gaza-Israel border, and large demonstrations are expected for it.