Israel carried out airstrikes on the central Gaza Strip early Thursday, hours after the army said it intercepted a rocket fired from Palestinian territory, according to journalists and witnesses.
New rockets were fired from Gaza following these attacks, and new explosions were heard from Gaza City at about 3:15 a.m. local time, Agence France-Presse journalists reported.
In a statement issued at 2:41 a.m., the Israeli army confirmed that it was “attacking the Gaza Strip”.
According to local security sources and witnesses, the first attacks — at least seven — hit a training center of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. The center is located in the al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.
A second round of airstrikes by the Israeli army targeted the al-Qassam Brigades training center southwest of Gaza City, according to local security sources.
After the first airstrike, an AFP reporter saw two more rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, and witnesses said several more rockets were fired from different locations.
Gaza, densely populated with 2.3 million people, has been under an Israeli blockade since Hamas came to power in 2007.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular Palestinian armed group, claimed to have “unleashed a barrage of rockets … in response to Zionist aggression on the Gaza Strip”.
On the Israeli side, warning sirens sounded in Sderot, a town in southern Israel close to the Gaza Strip, according to the army.
Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken ended his tour of the Middle East with no breakthrough in easing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
Blinken said he had heard “deep concern about the current trajectory” at rallies in Israel and the occupied West Bank, but other than calls for “de-escalation,” he offered no new US initiative.
An Israeli operation in the Jenin refugee camp last week, one of the deadliest raids in the West Bank in decades, killed 10 Palestinians, mostly gunmen but also two civilians, including a 61-year-old woman. The following day, a Palestinian gunman killed seven Israelis outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem in the worst attack in recent memory.
Nearly two dozen people have been killed in the past week as heightened tensions have led to retaliatory attacks, including shootings, targeting Israelis and Palestinians.