The Israeli army and Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip clashed with missiles before dawn on Thursday, less than 36 hours after a visit by the US secretary of state to plead for de-escalation.
These clashes took place between 2:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. Thursday (12:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. GMT) and remained limited.
The Israeli airstrikes were expected after the firing of a Palestinian rocket at dusk on Wednesday, which was intercepted by the air defense system, Israel having a habit of not leaving such attacks unanswered.
Emergency services reported no casualties on either side.
Hazem Qassem, spokesman for Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement in power in the Gaza Strip since 2007, called the Israeli strikes "a continuation of the cycle of aggression against [the] Palestinian people, and accused the Israeli government and its "extremist policy" of "opening the door wide to an escalation on the ground".
The Israeli army has warned for its part that it holds "the terrorist organization Hamas responsible for all terrorist activity coming from the Gaza Strip" and that the movement should "pay the consequences of breaches of Israel's security" .
According to local Palestinian security sources, the Israeli strikes hit a training center of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, in the al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, and another southwest of Gaza City.
According to the army, Israeli warplanes "hit a center for the production [and] storage of chemical raw materials used for a rocket production line" belonging to Hamas and "a center for the manufacture of weapons", all two located in the center of the Gaza Strip, a micro-territory of 2.3 million inhabitants under Israeli blockade since Hamas took power there in 2007.
The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (FDLP), a secular Palestinian armed group, claimed between these two series of strikes a barrage of rockets [...] in response to the Zionist aggression", causing the sirens to go off alert in Sderot, a city in southern Israel near the Gaza Strip.
Al-Qassam Brigades say they responded to Israeli strikes by firing "missiles from the ground"
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir linked the first Palestinian rocket fire to his repeated statements about the need in his eyes to toughen the conditions of Palestinian so-called "security" detainees.
The shooting "will not dampen my resolve to continue to act to remove the camp-like conditions enjoyed by murderous terrorists," he said.
On the night of January 26 to 27, the Israeli army had already carried out strikes against the infrastructure of the Islamist movement Hamas in power in Gaza, after firing rockets into Israeli territory.
There had been no casualties.
These exchanges of fire followed a new Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank (territory occupied by Israel since 1967) which left ten dead on January 26 in the Jenin refugee camp.
On the evening of January 27, a Palestinian assailant killed six Israelis and a Ukrainian woman near a synagogue during the beginning of Shabbat prayers in East Jerusalem, an area of the Holy City occupied and annexed by Israel.
"All parties must take steps to prevent a further escalation of violence and restore calm," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday at the end of a tour of the Middle East during which he met with Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders.
Mr. Blinken announced that members of his team remained in the region to continue discussions with a view to taking "concrete measures", "to lower the temperature, promote greater cooperation and strengthen security".
Daoud Chehab, a leader of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, told AFP on Wednesday that a delegation led by the leader of the movement, Ziad al-Nakhalé, was expected in Cairo on Thursday, "at the invitation of the Egypt" to discuss "the situation on the ground and how to restore calm, especially after the latest escalation".
This comes after a particularly bloody year 2022, during which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict killed 235 people, nearly 90% of Palestinians, according to an AFP count.
02/02/2023 09:48:03 - Gaza (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP