Israel hits back after rocket fire from Gaza, Syria

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Rocket fire from Gaza and Syria hit Israel early Monday in two separate incidents that prompted the Israeli military to hit back, just hours before the swearing in of a new Palestinian government.

The exchanges of fire took place as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to unveil a new government pieced together as part of a surprise April reconciliation agreement between leaders in the West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, that has been fiercely opposed by Israel.

Early on Monday, Israeli warplanes staged two bombing raids on targets in central and southern Gaza following rocket fire on southern Israel, a spokesman said.

"After two rockets were fired at Israeli territory over the last two days, the Israeli airforce attacked two terrorist sites in central and southern Gaza," he said, noting the raids were successful.

Since the start of the year, about 150 rockets have struck Israeli territory, but the border has been relatively calm for the past few weeks.

Meanwhile in the north, Israeli troops fired across the Syrian ceasefire line in the occupied Golan Heights after a projectile struck Israeli territory, the military said.

"Earlier this morning, a projectile fired from Syria exploded near an Israeli position on Mount Hermon," a military spokesman told AFP, saying troops had responded with artillery fire towards the area from which it came.

Army radio said three mortar shells had been fired from Syria, although only one had struck inside Israeli-held territory.

Israel, which is technically at war with Syria, seized 1,200-square-kilometre (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights plateau during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, the plateau has been tense, with a growing number of projectiles, mostly stray, hitting the Israeli side, prompting an occasional armed response.

The tension spiked just hours before the formal unveiling of the new Palestinian government at a ceremony at Abbas' Muqataa headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The new government, which will be headed by Rami Hamdallah - the current prime minister in the West Bank - will count a total of 17 ministers. Five of them, including Hamdallah, hail from Gaza.

Although the formal line-up has not yet been made public, it has been pieced together by Abbas's mainstream Fatah movement and the Islamist Hamas movement.

Technocratic in nature, it will not have a political mandate but will be tasked with organising elections within six months.

Israel has vowed to boycott the new government, with officials reportedly warning that after it is sworn in, they would hold Abbas directly responsible for any rocket fire emanating from Gaza.