Israel has carried out airstrikes in Gaza overnight, in response to a rocket fired from the strip earlier on Monday evening.
Israeli warplanes struck a number of sites including a Hamas weapons factory near the city of Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip – no injuries were reported.
The exchange of fire was the first since New Year’s Eve, ending one of the longest periods of calm along the border for years.
Although there has been no official claim, the initial missile launch has been attributed to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second-largest militant group in Gaza.
Nevertheless, Israel said it holds Hamas accountable, as the ruling organisation.
“The IDF considers Hamas responsible for what unfolds in the Gaza Strip,” a statement from the Israeli Defence Forces confirmed.
The rocket fired from Gaza earlier in the evening was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with his security chiefs shortly after to discuss a response.
Both events mark another escalation in tensions after weeks of violence in Israel and The West Bank. Fourteen Israelis were killed in four terrorist attacks between late March and early April and at least sixteen Palestinians have been killed by the IDF in The West Bank in recent weeks.
Over the weekend, Israeli police entered Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on two occasions, prompting riots with Palestinian worshippers angered by the presence of Israeli forces on land so holy to the Muslim faith during the month of Ramadan.
Almost 200 Palestinians were wounded in the fighting.
Jordan, the custodian of Al Aqsa, summoned Israel’s envoy in protest on Monday, and Amman will host an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers this coming Thursday.
Hamas has reportedly told Egyptian mediators on a number of occasions that it isn’t seeking escalation but the latest events leave the situation in a very delicate position.
The fact that no one was injured in the Israeli strikes should give some hope that this won’t descend further into outright conflict.
Israel often carries out strikes against Hamas targets in response to rocket fire from Gaza, to make a tit-for-tat point. It’s widely believed the IDF notifies Hamas of planned attacks deliberately so that casualties can be prevented and further escalation avoided.
Whether this exchange of missiles remains an isolated event will largely depend on Hamas and whether it can control other factions in Gaza.