A Cnn journalist in Gaza City heard the sounds of planes and explosions, minutes after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced the beginning of the operation. The Israeli strikes hit in multiple areas of the coastal enclave, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Several rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel in response.
The IDF said its fighter jets struck two “terror” tunnels in Beit Hanoun and Khan Yunis, along with two Hamas weapon manufacturing site. “The strike was done as a response to the security violations of Hamas during the last few days,” the statement said.
The exchange of fire comes as tensions simmer over Israeli police raids during Ramadan prayers at the al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in Jerusalem on Wednesday, which drew widespread condemnation from the Arab and Muslim world and sparked retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.
Then on Thursday, the IDF said some 34 rockets were launched from Lebanese territory into Israeli territory, in the largest such attack since a 2006 war between the two countries left around 1,200 Lebanese people and 165 Israelis dead.
Videos posted on social media showed rockets from Lebanon streaking through the skies over northern Israel, and the sounds of explosions in the distance. Israel closed its northern airspace in the wake of the barrage. No deaths were reported, and it is not yet known which group in Lebanon launched the rockets.
Israel said it would “decide on the place and time” of its response, an Idf defense official who asked not to be named told Cnn. An Israeli military spokesman said they believed a Palestinian militant group was behind the attack, not the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Ahead of an Israeli security cabinet meeting on Thursday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel “will hit our enemies and they will pay a price for every act of aggression.”
The Lebanese army confirmed a number of a rockets were launched from the country’s south, but did not detail who had fired them. It said on Twitter that a unit had found “missile launchers and a number of rockets intended for launch” in the vicinity of the Lebanese towns of Zibqin and Qlaileh, and was “currently working to dismantle them.”
Hezbollah has not yet commented on the incident. It comes a day after Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, arrived in Beirut for meetings with Hezbollah officials.
Tensions are sky-high in the region after Israeli police stormed the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on two separate occasions Wednesday, as Palestinian worshipers offered prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.
IDF international spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht linked the rocket fire to the two Israeli incursions into the al-Aqsa mosque, saying they had created “very negative energies.”
“The context of the story starts two days ago on Temple Mount with these very, very harsh pictures coming out of the prayer at night,” Hecht said, using the Jewish name for the Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.
Footage from inside the mosque showed Israeli officers beating people with their batons and rifle-butts, then arresting hundreds of Palestinians. Israeli police said they entered the mosque after “hundreds of rioters” tried to barricade themselves inside.
The incident, which was met with widespread condemnation from the Arab and Muslim world, sparked retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told Cnn “we are at a very dangerous moment.”
“What we see unfolding on the Lebanese border is obviously a consequence, a reaction to what we saw happening in al-Aqsa [mosque].”Safadi said.