Israel hits Gaza Strip with barrage of air strikes in response to rocket attack by Palestinian Islamist militants

Turkey condemns strikes as 'disproportionate' but Israel dismisses 'baseless' criticism

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 23 August 2016 11:17 BST
Aftermath of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza strip

Israel has launched a barrage of air strikes in the Gaza Strip in response to a rocket attack by Palestinian militants.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said sites linked to extremist groups including Hamas’ military wing, the Islamic Jihad group and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were targeted but Turkey condemned the strikes as “disproportionate”.

Tanks and fighter jets were used for the bombardment of at least 30 different sites on Sunday night, injuring five people according to the Palestinian Ma'an news agency.

An Israeli policeman carries part of a rocket launched from Gaza after it landed in Sderot on 21 August
An Israeli policeman carries part of a rocket launched from Gaza after it landed in Sderot on 21 August (Reuters)

Local officials said a water storage faility in the town of Beit Hanoun was damaged in shelling.

It came after a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip over the border into Israel, landing in the town of Sderot.

No injuries or damage were caused but a local music festival was disrupted as people ran for shelter during the attack.

Hamas, the Islamist group that has been in charge of Gaza since a takeover in 2007, denied any involvement and a group linked to Isis supporters later claimed responsibility.

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a spokesperson for the IDF, said the Israeli military “remains committed to the stability of the region and operated in order to bring quiet to the people of southern Israel.”

Gaza residents still wary of remnants of Israel war

“When terrorists in Hamas' Gaza Strip, driven by a radical agenda based on hatred, attack people in the middle of the summer vacation, their intentions are clear - to inflict pain, cause fear and to terrorise,” he added, saying 14 rockets had been fired into Israel from Gaza so far in 2016.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesperson for Hamas, said Israel’s air strikes marked an “escalation” in the conflict, adding: “Its aggression will not succeed in breaking the will of our people and dictate terms to the resistance.”

The bombardment sparked a new diplomatic row between Israel and Turkey, who have recently drawn up a landmark reconciliation agreement six years after the Israeli navy killed 10 Turkish civilians on a flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade.

The Turkish foreign ministry called Israel’s strikes “disproportionate” in a statement that continued: “The fact that our ties with Israel have normalised does not mean that we will remain silent in the face of such attacks that target the Palestinian people.

“On the contrary, we will continue to (defend) the Palestinian cause.”

Israel responded hours later, calling Turkey's condemnation "baseless" and vowing to defend its civilians.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said: "Israel will continue to defend its civilians from all rocket fire on our territory, in accordance with international law and our conscience.

“Turkey should think twice before criticising the military actions of others.”

Hamas has observed a de-facto ceasefire with Israel since the last war in 2014 but some small armed cells of jihadists have defied the agreement and have continued to occasionally launch rockets at Israel.

The British government does not class Hamas as a terrorist group in its entirety but lists its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, as a proscribed organisation.

Additional reporting by agencies

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