JERUSALEM (Agencies) — The Gaza border region was quiet but tense on Tuesday morning after a night of heavy fire as Israeli warplanes pounded Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday after an apparent rocket attack near Tel Aviv in what threatened to escalate into a major conflict, just two weeks before the Israeli election.
One Israeli strike targeted the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. He was not thought to have been in the office at the time, as Hamas routinely evacuates its buildings when it expects Israeli attacks.
“If there is any violation of the red lines by the occupation, our people will not surrender and the resistance is able to deter it,” Haniyeh said
Israeli warplanes attacked targets across the coastal enclave. Palestinian radio stations and Hamas TV played patriotic songs calling for “resistance” against Israel.
Another strike destroyed a building in Gaza City that Israel claimed was a secret headquarters for Hamas security and intelligence. Local residents said it housed the offices of the Multasim insurance company. Hamas’s interior security office in Gaza City was also hit. Five Palestinians were injured in the airstrikes.
The Israeli military said it was assigning two brigades to the Gaza area and some reservists were being called up. Troops moved toward the border, where the military also closed several roads to civilian traffic.
We are prepared for a wide range of scenarios,” military spokesman Ronen Manelis said.
The airstrikes were retaliation for what Israel claimed was a long-range rocket attack by Hamas early on Monday that destroyed a house near Tel Aviv. Seven people were injured.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was under pressure to deliver a tough response as he faces a strong challenge in next month’s Knesset elections, analysts said.
In comments from Washington, Netanyahu said “Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression,” while Trump spoke of Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
Netanyahu said he would return home after meeting Trump, canceling an address to pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference on Tuesday.
One Israeli strike destroyed a building in Gaza City that Israel alleged was a secret headquarters for Hamas security and intelligence.
There was no claim of responsibility for the early morning attack near Tel Aviv. The Israeli military claimed Hamas fired the rocket from about 120km, making it the longest-range attack from Gaza since the 2014 war.
Hamas denied firing the rocket.
“None of the resistance movements, including Hamas, is interested in firing rockets from the Gaza Strip into the enemy,” an official said.
“The same message was handed over to Egypt, which has acted as a mediator between Israel and Hamas.”
Netanyahu cut short a visit to the US to return home, as did his main election challenger, former military chief Benny Gantz. “Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this,” Netanyahu said after the rocket strike.
“And as we speak … Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression.”
The Israeli prime minister’s options are limited, analysts told Arab News. “He can go in the direction of a serious understanding with Hamas to end the siege of Gaza, or go in the direction of a large operation, but I do not think that would stop the fall of rockets on Israeli cities, as happened in the past,” the Hamas-affiliated political analyst Ibrahim Madhoun said.
“No one wants war, but Hamas cannot tolerate much more Israeli procrastination. If Egypt wants to succeed in its efforts to reach a truce, it should apply more pressure on Israel.”
A joint statement from militant groups in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, took responsibility for the barrage of rockets fired in response to the Israeli strikes later Monday night.
The rocket from Gaza that hit a house in Israel early Monday was a rare long-distance strike and Israel’s army said it was fired by Hamas.
The Israeli house hit was located in the community of Mishmeret, around 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Tel Aviv, police said.
The rocket would have had to travel some 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where Israel said it was fired from.
The hospital treating the wounded said seven Israelis were injured lightly by burns and shrapnel, including three children.
One of the wounded was a six-month-old child and six of them were members of the same British-Israeli family.
The house was destroyed in the wake of the rocket and subsequent fire, with burnt wood, a children’s toy and other debris piled at the site.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the last decade. Although neither side appears to have an interest in another war, fighting could easily spin out of control. The 2014 conflict lasted 50 days and ended with over 2,000 Palestinian deaths, including hundreds of civilians, and 73 killed on the Israeli side.
In Gaza, Hamas is facing perhaps its toughest domestic test since seizing control of the coastal territory from the rival Palestinian Authority 12 years ago.
Hamas has been leading weekly protests along the Israeli border for the past year in hopes of easing the blockade, but the demonstrations, in which some 190 people have been killed by Israeli fire, have done little to improve conditions.