Israel strikes Hamas rocket factory in retaliatory attack

Gaza - MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images
Gaza - MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip on Friday in response to a series of rocket attacks from the Palestinian enclave, the day after a major Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank killed nine.

The Israel Defence Forces [IDF] said it struck an underground rocket factory run by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, after a small number of rockets were launched at Israel.

Air raid sirens sounded in Israeli communities near the Gaza border in the early hours of Friday morning after the rockets were fired, but there were no reports of any injuries.

One rocket fell short of the border, another landed in an open area and three were intercepted by Israeli air defences, an IDF spokesman said.

Israel's defence minister said the country was preparing for further air strikes on Gaza "if necessary".

The restrained exchange of fire suggests neither side wants to escalate the conflict at this stage, though Thursday's deadly raid on a Jenin refugee camp has left the region on edge.

Israel says it carried out the early morning raid to prevent a major terror attack that was being planned by members of Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group based in the camp.

Among the nine dead were two civilians including an elderly woman, Palestinian officials said on Friday.

Palestinian leaders have accused Israel of firing tear gas into a children's ward during the raid, which they said was the bloodiest since the 2002 Battle of Jenin, in which dozens were killed.

Israel is investigating their deaths and says it takes extreme care to avoid civilian casualties.

The raid marks the first security crisis for Benjamin Netanyahu's new far-Right government, which is due to host Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, early next week.

Last year, Israel launched a major operation called Break The Wave, targeting Islamic Jihad in the northern West Bank following a series of deadly terror attacks on Israeli civilians.

Some 29 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank this month alone, and last year was the deadliest for Palestinians in the territory since 2005.

During a similar raid on Jenin in December, Israeli forces shot dead a 15-year-old girl on a rooftop amid a gun battle with Palestinian fighters.