The Israel Defence Forces have attacked military targets belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The attack, carried out by Israeli fighter planes, is a response to the launching by the Islamic terrorist group of two rockets aimed at the Israeli coast near the city of Ashdod, according to IDF sources.
The Israeli army has reported on Twitter the movement: "Earlier this evening, two rockets were fired from the north of the Gaza Strip towards the coast, near the city of Ashdod". In the tweet, the IDF added that "in response, fighter jets have bombed Hamas-owned military targets in Gaza".
In a subsequent statement, the Israelis added that the warplanes had hit Hamas military targets, including sites for underground tunnels, some of which extend into Israel. Last year, the IDF reported the neutralisation of a tunnel dug by Hamas under Gaza tens of metres away in Israel, thanks to an underground concrete sensory barrier.
So far, the number of injuries has not been disclosed, nor are there any official reports of damage or injuries from the rockets. The shells did not trigger the warning sirens, according to the IDF, while Palestinian security forces in Gaza said the fire hit "farmland" in the southern area of Khan Yunis, a city that houses Palestinian refugee camps.
The Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that an Israeli fighter plane fired two missiles at a location east of Rafah, causing a fire that has devastated the area, as well as several damages in an open agricultural area. Several Israeli military vehicles reportedly crossed the borders east of Khan Yunis and destroyed land before leaving the area.
The Israeli government blames Hamas for all the incidents in the Gaza Strip because of its control of it. The IDF press release points to the Islamic Resistance Movement and states that it is "responsible for what is happening and will bear the consequences of terrorist actions against the citizens of Israel".
The dispute is intensifying after several attempts to agree on a cease-fire. The Israeli army attacked Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip during the past week, also in response to shots fired at two Israeli vehicles in the border area. These movements are in addition to the latest clashes recorded in recent months.
Hamas, for its part, accuses Israel of not complying with its truce obligations. These include easing the blockade in the Palestinian enclave and allowing large-scale infrastructure and job creation projects, while Qatar is trying to ease tension.
Local media reported that the Palestinian authorities gave the green light to the financial support offered by Qatar's special envoy to the area, Mohamed El Emadi. The emirate offered Hamas some $40 million, with the consent of senior Israeli officials, with the aim of putting an end to the confrontation.
Israel and the Islamic Resistance Movement have waged three wars since the latter seized power in 2007. Although the area has not witnessed a major confrontation since 2014, cross-border skirmishes are commonplace.
The high incidence of COVID-19 in the area has also served as a defence shield against attacks. Both territories have been affected by the pandemic and the order of priorities has therefore been altered.
The confrontation will enter a new phase from May onwards. Hamas, which holds de facto power, last week approved the announcement of parliamentary and presidential elections made by Mahmoud Abbas, president of Palestine and the Palestinian Authority.
The Islamic Resistance Movement apparently welcomed the call for elections, and stated that "it is interested in making these elections a success in order to achieve the interests of the Palestinian people, who have the absolute right to choose their leaders and representatives".
In principle, parliamentary elections will be held on 22 May, presidential elections on 31 July and elections to the Palestinian National Council on 31 August. If the roadmap is implemented, this would be the first national vote by the Palestinians in 15 years.
In the last Palestinian elections in 2006, Hamas managed to impose itself unexpectedly. The ballot boxes produced a brief unity government that soon collapsed. Heavy fighting between the two main factions then erupted, and Hamas finally took control of Gaza.
Following the events, the international community cut off its aid to the Palestinian authorities, leading both factions to clashes that ended with the administrative separation of the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
The disagreements between Hamas and al-Fatah, Abbas's party, have continued over the years, making it difficult to hold elections. However, the Palestinian prime minister, Mohamad Shtayé, has stated that with this process "they hope it will be the end of separation and division" and "the beginning of democracy".