The Israeli military struck targets in central Gaza belonging to the militant group Islamic Jihad in response to a barrage of mortar shells fired earlier into southern Israel, Hamas said.
Earlier, the Israel Defense Forces said Palestinian militants in the Gaza strip had fired more than two dozen mortar shells at southern Israel, causing no injuries but raising tensions in the border area.
The IDF said it was “operating in the Gaza strip” following the incident on Tuesday, May 29.
The IDF is currently operating in the Gaza Strip. The explosions heard are related to this activity. Details to follow
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) May 29, 2018
An earlier statement from the army said that “25 mortar shells were launched towards several sites in Israeli territory.”
“Most of the launches were intercepted by the IDF’s Iron Dome aerial defence system,” the spokesperson said.
Police said that “a number of the mortars landed in open areas inside Israel.” Two further mortar shells were fired at Israel from Gaza after the initial barrage, the army said.
One mortar shell exploded near a kindergarten building, a military spokesman said. No children were believed to be there at the time.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus is reporting from the Israeli kindergarten that was hit by several mortars earlier this morning. The kindergarten is located in a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip pic.twitter.com/vZBa0y0UJm
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) May 29, 2018
It appeared to be the largest projectile barrage from Gaza targeting Israel since a 2014 war.
A second series of rocket fire was reported in the afternoon. The IDF said code red sirens had sounded in Hof Ashkelon, Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, and the Ashkelon industrial area near Gaza.
Three residents of Sderot were taken to the hospital with injuries, and another two were lightly injured, the Times of Israel reported. Three of the injured were Israeli soldiers wounded by mortar shrapnel, including one who suffered head injuries, the IDF said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond “forcefully” to the incident.
“The IDF will respond with great force to these attacks, and Israel will exact a heavy price from anyone who tries to harm it,” Netanyahu said. He is set to hold a special session of the security cabinet later on Tuesday.
Palestinian security sources said Israeli tanks struck observation points belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad near the border. The army has blamed Islamic Jihad for the attack, saying it was likely carried out with the backing of Hamas.
The Israeli air force accused Islamic Jihad of using “Iranian-made weapons” and said it used IAF jets and other aircraft to attack 35 sites in Gaza, including military barracks, weapons storage sites, maritime targets and “terrorist headquarters.”
The air force said it also struck a tunnel system that ran from Gaza through Egypt into Israel.
Islamic Jihad praised the attack as “a blessed retaliation of resistance,” Israel’s i24 reported, but did not claim responsibility for firing the rockets.
The mortar fire follows deadly mass protests and clashes that began along the Gaza border on March 30.
The protests have called for Palestinians who fled or were expelled in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation to be allowed to return to their former homes now inside Israel.
They peaked on May 14, when at least 61 Palestinians were killed as tens of thousands of Gazans protested and clashes erupted on the same day of the U.S. transfer of its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Demonstrations and clashes have continued at a low level since then. At least 121 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the unrest.
Israel says its actions are necessary to defend its borders and accuses Hamas of encouraging thousands of Palestinians to break through the border and attack Israelis.
On Monday, Gaza’s health ministry said one Palestinian was killed by tank fire at an observation point. Israel said it had fired at it after two Palestinians attempted to infiltrate the border fence with the “intention of carrying out an attack.” The two were arrested.
There was also machine gun fire from the Gaza Strip toward Israel later Monday, the military said.
A day earlier, a tank targeted an Islamic Jihad observation point in response to an explosive device being placed on the border fence, killing three members of the group.
The Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade for more than a decade, with Israel saying it is necessary to prevent the Palestinian enclave’s militant Hamas rulers from obtaining means to attack the Jewish state.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
With reporting from AFP