World News

Gaza militants launch mortars, rockets at Israel, which responds with airstrikes

Posted May 29, 2018 10:12 a.m. EDT
Updated May 29, 2018 5:58 p.m. EDT

— Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes on targets in Gaza in response to what it called the biggest barrage of rocket and mortar fire from the strip since the 2014 war there.

The Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, said it launched more than 35 airstrikes targeting the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, after approximately 70 rockets and mortars were fired toward Israeli territory Tuesday morning.

At least 25 incoming projectiles were intercepted by its iron dome air defense system, the IDF said earlier in the day.

Israel said three of its soldiers were injured, two lightly and a third moderately, in the militant fire from Gaza. In one of the day's first barrages, one of the mortars landed in the yard of a kindergarten, which was empty at the time because school had not started.

The IDF said Israeli air force planes had attacked targets in seven locations belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including "six military compounds, munition storage warehouses, naval targets, and terror headquarters."

A senior Israeli official denied reports a ceasefire deal has been reached between Israel and militant groups in Gaza. Reports in Arab media spoke of a ceasefire agreement mediated by Egypt and due to come into force at midnight.

An official from Islamic Jihad told CNN that Egyptian intelligence had asked the militant group to return to the 2014 ceasefire agreement, adding, "We (Islamic Jihad) are committed to it as long as Israel is."

The 2014 ceasefire agreement is a reference to the agreement reached at the end of the last all-out war between Israel and Hamas.

A second Islamic Jihad official told CNN that "Egyptian efforts reached a ceasefire and a return to the 2014 agreement." The official told Egypt that militants in Gaza did not want escalation with Israel, but said they had the right to defend themselves if attacks continued.

IDF says Islamic Jihad responsible

In a significant move, Israel singled out Islamic Jihad as the militant group that carried out Tuesday's attacks.

In a statement, the IDF said the action was a "severe, dangerous, and orchestrated act of terror, aimed at Israeli civilians and children."

Islamic Jihad "follows the ideology of Iran, is funded by Iran, and in today's attack, used munition made by Iran," the statement said.

But the IDF statement also repeated Israel's often-stated position that it continues to hold Hamas -- the militant group that controls Gaza -- accountable for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip. "Hamas has the ability to escalate or de-escalate the situation," the statement said.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed joint responsibility for the attacks.

In a statement issued by the militant groups' armed wings, the Al-Qassam Brigades and the Al-Quds Brigades respectively, the two groups blamed Israel for starting the latest round of aggression and said they had cooperated in launching the attacks because Israel's "crimes could not be tolerated in any way."

The statement said that if Israel continued to attack Gaza then "all resistance options remain open no matter what the cost."

There have been no reports of any fatalities or injuries arising from Israel's airstrikes from either the Palestinian Ministry of Health or from the militant groups themselves.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier promised a significant military response of "great force."

Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

UN chief Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov expressed his deep concern at what he called "indiscriminate firing" by Gaza militants toward communities in southern Israel.

"Such attacks are unacceptable and undermine the serious efforts by the international community to improve the situation in Gaza. All parties must exercise restraint, avoid escalation and prevent incidents that jeopardize the lives of Palestinians and Israelis," Mladenov said in a statement.

Palestinian boat intercepted

Also Tuesday, the Israeli navy intercepted a Palestinian boat that set sail from Gaza aiming to breach Israel's naval blockade of the enclave, the IDF said. The IDF said there were about 17 people on board. It said the boat was apprehended peacefully and had been towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The confrontations came after weeks of Palestinian protests, known as the Great March of Return, near the fence that separates Gaza and Israel, during which more than 100 protesters were killed by Israeli fire.

The protests were intended to highlight Palestinian demands to return to homes and villages they lost during the creation of the state of Israel seven decades ago, and were given a boost by the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14. Israel said the protests were orchestrated by Hamas and presented a security threat to people living nearby.