JERUSALEM - Militant group Islamic Jihad fired more than 150 rockets into Israel after Israel assassinated a senior Islamic Jihad official. Palestinian hospital officials said at least five people died in several Israeli strikes. Israeli officials say they are braced for several days of fighting.
The wailing of sirens warning of incoming rocket attacks was heard throughout southern Israel next to Gaza, and even in Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv. The government decided to close all schools and work places from Tel Aviv southwards, for the first time since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system shot down dozens of the rockets, and others hit unpopulated areas or the sea. One rocket hit a home, and another a factory. Several Israelis were slightly injured from shrapnel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the man Israel assassinated, Baha Abu al-Ata, was responsible for many of the recent rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel.
He said al-Ata was a ticking bomb and was planning further attacks.
Israel braced for retaliation and it came quickly. Abu al-Ata was buried at a mass funeral among chants for revenge on Israel.
Israel did not respond to the rocket attacks for several hours, but then began hitting areas where rockets were being fired from.
Former Israeli general Giora Eiland said that Islamic Jihad’s attack on Israel can also be seen as a challenge to Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007. At the same time, Hamas is trying to reimpose calm.
"Islamic Jihad is threatening the ability of Hamas to control Gaza because it’s a real opposition," Eiland said. "So they are trying in these hard moments to talk to each other and Israel believes these attempts by Hamas will succeed."
Eiland said that Islamic Jihad is financed by Iran, and has built up a significant military capability.
There have been similar clashes between Israel and Hamas before. Israeli officials have sent messages to Hamas that they are not interested in a widespread conflict, and that if the rocket fire stops, they will stop their attacks on Gaza.