Netanyahu warns Hamas after Gaza unrest

Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas Sunday that Israel would not hesitate to launch a “large-scale operation” in Gaza, as daily exchanges with the Palestinian territory threatened a wider escalation.

Speaking ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu noted that while “rogue factions” were behind the recent Gaza “provocations”, it “did not exempt Hamas”, the enclave’s Islamist rulers, of responsibility.

“I’ve heard people in Gaza saying that since we’re in an election campaign, a large-scale operation is out of the question,” he further said, referring to April 9 Israeli polls.

“I’d suggest to Hamas — don’t count on it. We’ll do whatever is necessary to return the peace and quiet to the Gaza border communities, and the entire south.”

Earlier Sunday, Israeli aircraft struck Hamas targets in Gaza after a rocket from the Palestinian enclave hit the Jewish state, the army said.

“Fighter jets and aircraft struck several military targets in a Hamas compound in the northern Gaza Strip in addition to two Hamas vessels,” a statement from the army said.

The attacks were in response to a rocket fired from Gaza late Saturday “in addition to the continued violence emanating from the Gaza Strip,” the army said.

The rocket hit an open field in Israel’s Eshkol region, causing no casualties or damages, a local government spokeswoman said.

A security source in Gaza said a Hamas site in the northern Gaza Strip was hit as well as fishing boats west of Deir al-Balah in the central part of the coastal enclave.

The source denied the boats belonged to Hamas’s armed wing. No one was injured.

Gazans have been launching balloons carrying explosive devices at Israel and stepping up attempts to damage the border fence on a daily basis for more than 10 days, prompting Israeli retaliation.

Israeli forces said Saturday they had launched several strikes against Hamas sites in Gaza in response to a projectile launched from the coastal enclave the night before.

At least 253 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March 2018, the majority shot during weekly border protests and clashes.

Others have been hit by tank fire or air strikes in response to violence from Gaza.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period.

Israel and Hamas, which has controlled the blockaded Gaza Strip for over a decade, have fought three wars since 2008.