Israel launches airstrikes on 'Hamas military targets' in Gaza Strip as it responds to rocket attacks

May 11, 2021

The Israeli military has insisted it does all it can to avoid civilian deaths after 22 people, including nine children, were killed overnight in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli fighter jets, attack helicopters and drones hit more than 130 "Hamas military targets", including the home of a Hamas commander, according to the Israeli military.

The airstrikes were a retaliation for a barrage of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza since 6pm on Monday including six rockets which landed near Jerusalem.

In total, more than 200 rockets were launched by Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups inside Gaza. Video was released by both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) showing the rockets being fired.

In an early morning briefing, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said that more than 90% of the rockets fired from Gaza were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system.

He could not confirm whether the civilian casualties in Gaza were the result of Israeli airstrikes and suggested they could be the consequence of misfired Hamas rockets.

"Thirty-three percent of the rockets fell short and exploded inside Gaza, an abnormally high misfire rate, maybe indicating poor quality," Lt Col Conricus said.

"Hamas rockets are falling short and causing damage inside Gaza.... we know they are falling short because of our radar systems."

"Hamas is nurturing a narrative that the ISF is killing non-combatants. We take every effort to avoid killing non-combatants - but can't confirm or deny yet whether Israeli strikes have hit civilians," he added.

He said that current estimates suggest that Israeli strikes over a 12-hour period had killed 15 Hamas and PIJ fighters including a Hamas battalion commander whose home in a high rise block was hit.

The residential property was among a number of groups of targets identified in advance according to the IDF. The others included rockets manufacturing facilities, storage facilities, training facilities and military bases.

Gaza's health ministry said at least seven members of one family, including three children, were killed in an explosion in northern Gaza but the origins of the explosion are unknown.

This morning, rockets continued to be fired from Gaza into southern Israel with a residential building in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon hit, injuring one person.

Hamas said in a statement this morning that it will "not stop its resistance action as long as the Israeli occupation continues its aggression against the Palestinians".

The latest violence comes amid soaring tensions in Jerusalem and days of clashes at an important mosque in the holy city.

Hundreds of Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli security forces in 24 hours in the courtyard outside the Al Aqsa mosque and in the narrow streets of the old city.

Hamas had given the Israeli government an ultimatum to withdraw its forces from the mosque area, release all Palestinians detained over the course of the day and remove Jewish settlers from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.

The militant group said it would retaliate at 6pm on Monday if the demands were not met.

At just after 6pm explosions were heard in Jerusalem as the Hamas rockets landed eight miles to the west of the city.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Hamas attacks had "crossed a red line".

"Israel will respond very forcefully. We will not tolerate attacks on our territory, our capital, our citizens and our soldiers. Whoever strikes us will pay a heavy price," he said.

A US State Department spokesman had expressed deep concern over the events at the Al Aqsa mosque earlier in the day and called the Hamas rocket attack an "unacceptable escalation".

Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, tweeted: "The UK condemns the firing of rockets at Jerusalem and locations within Israel.

"The ongoing violence in Jerusalem and Gaza must stop. We need an immediate de-escalation on all sides, and end to targeting of civilian populations."

Expect further bloodshed with divisions as unbridgeable as ever

Analysis by Mark Stone, news correspondent, in Jerusalem

As the air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem on Monday evening, I was standing at the city's Damascus Gate.

Hundreds of Palestinians around me cheered spontaneously. For them this was the retaliation they wanted; a renewed stand against Israeli aggression over the past few weeks and occupation over decades.

Hamas is attempting to present itself as the defender of the Palestinian cause and the defender of the Al Aqsa mosque - a strategy captured by the cheers.

The western-proscribed terror group surprised everyone with such an audacious strike at Israeli communities so close to Jerusalem.

But more than that - it has neatly seized the political advantage away from its rival, Fatah, [the Palestinian Authority, or PA] in the West Bank.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were already weary of the PA. And increasingly, Hamas is popular as the defender of the Palestinian cause.

More broadly, Palestinians feel forgotten by the world; that their cause and their lives aren't important. "Palestinian Lives Matter" as a slogan has caught on in Palestine - but nowhere else.

An increasingly nationalist Israeli psyche, unprecedented Jewish settlement expansion and Arab governments signing deals with Israel have all combined to create a hopelessness for Palestinians. And Hamas is filling the void.

Different sides push different narratives. Some say Hamas encouraged Palestinians in Jerusalem to clash with the police to provide a pretext for the Hamas strikes out of Gaza.

Others say the clashes were the consequence of a long-brewing organic Palestinian frustration and that Hamas would rather not have escalated to this level - knowing the barrage from Israel that has now come - but felt forced to.

Either way we are now in a cycle of attacks and counter attacks which will leave many dead.

There is another fresh dynamic now too. In a way that we have not seen before, Israeli Arabs (Arab communities who didn't leave during the 1948 Naqba, when Israel pushed most Palestinians out) are motivated to protest.

In Israeli Arab towns like Nasareth and Jaffa, we have seen demonstrations by people in solidarity with the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Many Arab Israelis even came to Jerusalem to show support.

The schisms here are deep but they seem to be very exposed right now.

Late on Monday night there was a vivid illustration of just how divided Jews and Palestinians are here.

A tree burned in the courtyard outside the Al Aqsa mosque. Just adjacent and below at their Wailing Wall, thousands of Jews cheered.

Palestinians cheering Hamas rockets. Nationalist Israelis cheering the prospect of a burning mosque. There will be difficult days ahead.

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