Israel strikes Gaza Strip after rocket fire

Fires are seen following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city on July 16, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
Fires are seen following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city on July 16, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

GAZA CITY, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES (AFP) - Israeli warplanes raided the Gaza Strip before dawn on Saturday (July 16) in what it said was a retaliatory strike for rocket fire from the Palestinian territory controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas.

The exchange of fire came hours after US President Joe Biden had visited Israel and the occupied West Bank.

"Fighter jets struck a military site in the central Gaza Strip belonging to the Hamas terrorist organisation," the Israeli army said in a statement.

"The military site consists of an underground complex containing raw materials used for the manufacturing of rockets," it added.

The strike "will significantly impede and undermine Hamas' force-building capabilities", it said, adding that Israel was responding to "attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israeli territory".

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem denounced the strikes, which the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said caused no injuries.

WAFA said Israeli missiles were fired at two locations, one "near a tourist resort" where nearby houses were severely damaged.

Balls of fire lit up the night sky over Gaza City after the strikes, which at one location left a hole in the earth beneath dislodged paving stones outside a low-rise building.

A man later swept up shattered glass in front of what appeared to be an office.

Gaza work permits

In further retaliation for the Gaza rocket fire, Israel announced late on Saturday it was suspending a decision to increase the number of permits granted for Gazans to work in the Jewish state.

The quota was raised before Biden's visit by 1,500 permits, allowing 15,500 Gazan workers into Israel.

Hamas "carries responsibility for all activities directed against Israel in and from the Gaza Strip, and it will bear the consequences", said COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories.

There had been two separate launches towards Israel on Friday night, each of two rockets, the military said.

A Palestinian man stands at the site of an Israeli air strike carried out in Gaza City, on July 16, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Warning sirens had sounded in the city of Ashkelon and elsewhere in Israel's south.

Israel's military said one of the rockets had been intercepted while the other three fell on empty land.

Impoverished Gaza, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, has been under Israeli blockade since 2007 when Iran-backed Hamas seized power from the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Biden visit

Before flying to Saudi Arabia on Friday, Biden visited the West Bank where he reiterated his administration's commitment to a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There "must be a political horizon that the Palestinian people can actually see", Biden said.

"I know that the goal of the two states seems so far away," he said in Bethlehem, standing alongside the Palestinian leader Abbas.

Abbas said "recognising the state of Palestine" was the key to peace.

US President Joe Biden (left) meets President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. PHOTO: NYTIMES

With Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations moribund since 2014, the US delegation was focused on economic measures.

Biden announced an additional US$200 million (S$280 million) for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. Biden's predecessor, president Donald Trump, had cut funding to the agency.

During a visit earlier on Friday to a hospital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Biden pledged a US$100 million aid package for medical institutions in the area.

He also announced plans to roll out infrastructure for 4G Internet across Gaza and the West Bank by the end of next year.

Israel occupied both the Gaza Strip and West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War.

It withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but has maintained a blockade of the coastal territory since the Hamas takeover.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.