JERUSALEM -- Israeli aircraft struck the Gaza Strip Sunday after the latest in a series of Palestinian rocket attacks that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the international community of ignoring. The Omar Brigades, a Palestinian organization that supports the Islamic State group, claimed responsibility for Saturday’s salvo, which, like the Israeli strike, caused no casualties.
Israel closed its border crossings with the Hamas-controlled enclave, and Netanyahu hinted at a stronger Israeli military response if the cross-border attacks persist.
It was the third such rocket strike carried out by Salafi jihadists, radical rivals of Hamas, who are demanding that the ruling Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip release imprisoned sympathizers of the militant group formerly known as either ISIL or ISIS and that Israel frees Palestinian inmates.
Political analysts in Gaza said the Salafis hoped the prospect of the collapse of Hamas’ ceasefire with Israel, after a 50-day war almost a year ago, would pressure the group to free the men.
Israel said that as the dominant force in the Gaza Strip, Hamas bore overall responsibility for any rocket attacks from the enclave of 1.8 million Palestinians.
Netanyahu seized on the rocket strikes to launch his own attack against international criticism of his right-wing government’s policies toward the Palestinians and its opposition to a burgeoning nuclear deal between world powers and Iran. “I did not hear anybody in the international community condemn this firing at us from Gaza, neither has the United Nations said a word,” he told his cabinet in public remarks.
Hinting at a stronger Israeli military response to any further cross-border attacks, Netanyahu said: “It will be interesting to see if this silence continues when we use our full strength to uphold our right to defend ourselves.”
Netanyahu said, “The spreading hypocrisy in the world will not tie our hands in protecting Israeli citizens,” adding that Israel’s critics were accusing it of failing to pursue peace when it was the Palestinians who “ran away from negotiations.”
Peace talks collapsed in April 2014, with disputes raging over Israeli settlement in occupied territory and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ unity deal with Hamas.
After the rocket strike Saturday, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom border terminal, the main conduit for shipment of commercial goods to Gaza, and the Erez passenger crossing.
The rocket triggered warning sirens in the city of Ashkelon, about 6 miles north of Gaza. It exploded in an open area. Israeli aircraft later struck a Hamas training facility, where no casualties were reported.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Janet Lawrence)