Israel launches Gaza airstrikes after two rockets fired at Tel Aviv
Hamas denies responsibility for bombardment
Israel has launched air strikes in Gaza after militants in the territory fired two rockets towards Tel Aviv late on Thursday evening, the Israeli military confirmed.
No damage or injuries were reported in Tel Aviv but the escalation in hostilities raises the likelihood of a harsh Israeli reprisal.
It remains unclear which group was responsible for the rocket fire.
Hamas, the militant group which controls Gaza, denied involvement in the attack, as did Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed armed organisation which also possesses a formidable rocket arsenal.
It is the first time that Tel Aviv has been targeted with rocket fire since the 2014 war fought between Israel’s military and Gaza’s militants.
Palestinian witnesses said Israeli planes bombed two Hamas security positions in the south and north of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military confirmed that it was attacking what it called terror sites in Gaza.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, visited the country’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv following the rocket fire.
Ronen Manelis, the Israeli army’s chief spokesman, said officials had no prior warning of the rocket attack and were trying to pinpoint who was responsible.
The Israeli Defence Forces posted video footage of the attack’s aftermath on its official Twitter account.
The country holds Hamas responsible for all missile fired out of the territory.
Ron Huldai, Tel Aviv’s mayor, ordered city officials to open public air raid shelters but otherwise encouraged residents to proceed normally.
“Continue life as usual,” Mr Huldai told Channel 10 TV. “Be calm, but be alert.”
Earlier this week, Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire on southern Israel, near the border.
Egyptian mediators had been in Gaza, trying to broker a cease-fire between militants and Israel but local media said they had now left the territory.
“Regardless who is behind the firing tonight, Hamas bears responsibility,” Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, said.
“In the past year I have said clearly that those who are lenient towards fire-starting kite launchers will get missiles. And anyone who shows restraint to missiles on Sderot, will get missiles on Tel Aviv.
“The time has come to defeat Hamas once and for all.”
Mr Netanyahu issued a warning to Hamas earlier this week, rejecting suggestions that Israel would be reluctant to take tough action in Gaza ahead of national elections next month.
“I suggest to Hamas, don’t count on it,” he said. ”We will do anything necessary to restore security and quiet to the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and to the south in general.”
Additional reporting by agencies