GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Israeli jets bombed sites across Gaza Thursday after a Palestinian rocket slammed into a house in the southern city of Beersheva, raising tension along the enclave’s border.
The Israeli military said it had targeted several Hamas camps in Gaza during early morning raids, after a rocket fired from the coastal strip struck Beersheva for the first time since Israel’s devastating 2008-2009 Gaza war.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the Israeli airstrikes or the rocket fire into Beersheva. A crater had been gouged out of a street next to a badly damaged home that was hit by a military grade Grad rocket, an AFP photographer said.
Residents of the Israeli town said they escaped harm after warning sirens sent them running for the bomb shelters before the projectile struck. Emergency services raised the alert level in southern Israel and braced for further attacks.
Beersheva, known as the capital of the Negev Desert, is home to about 200,000 people and 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Gaza Strip.
The military said in a statement it had “targeted a terrorist squad in the northern Gaza Strip, in the same location where rockets were fired towards the Israeli city of Beersheva.”
Later, war planes bombed several other sites across the coastal strip, which the military called “hubs of terror.” It gave no further details.
Palestinian sources said there were four Israeli strikes, three in Gaza City and one in the southern town of Khan Yunis. All targeted Hamas training centres.
The tit-for-tat strikes comes after a day of clashes along the Gaza border on Wednesday, in which one Islamic Jihad militant was killed and 10 other people wounded.
The group said several of its members “were wounded as they fired two mortar shells at Israeli tanks operating inside the Gaza Strip.” One of them later died.
The Israeli military said an army was “engaged in a regular patrol along the Gaza border when an explosive device was detonated near the force and a mortar shell fired at it.”
“The force spotted several terrorists and opened fire on them, identifying a hit,” she said, adding that militants had placed 12 bombs along the border fence in the past two months.
The Ezzedine al-Qassem Brigades, the armed wing of Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement, said it had participated in attacks against the military, and Israel said it held the group responsible for the flare-up of violence.
The army said it held Hamas “solely responsible for maintaining the calm in the Gaza Strip and for any terrorist activity emanating from it.”
The left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian and the Ezzedine al-Qassem Brigades also issued statements saying they had fired mortar shells into Israel on Wednesday night.
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said he saw Iran’s hand in the surge of violence, trying to take advantage of the turmoil sweeping the region.
“The rocket attack was a very grave act carried out by the agents of Iran, Hamas,” he told public radio.
Israel carried out a massive 22-day offensive against the territory to stop rocket fire from Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009, which killed 1,400 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.
Also Wednesday a seven-year-old child was killed and two other people were wounded in an explosion apparently set off by accident and which also badly damaged a home in Khan Yunis, witnesses said.