Hamas rocket attack from Gaza sets off air raid sirens in Tel Aviv

26 May 2024, 16:14

Hamas victim's funeral
Israel Palestinians. Picture: PA

It is the first time in months the militants have launched a long-range rocket attack.

Hamas has fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza that set off air raid sirens as far away as Tel Aviv for the first time in months in a show of resilience more than seven months into Israel’s massive air, sea and ground offensive.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage in what appeared to be the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January. Palestinian militants have continued to sporadically fire rockets and mortar rounds at communities along the Gaza border since then.

Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for the attack on Sunday, and rocket launches could be heard in central Gaza.

The Israeli military said eight projectiles crossed into Israel after being launched from the area of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where Israeli forces recently launched an incursion. It said “a number” of the projectiles were intercepted.

Earlier on Sunday, aid trucks entered Gaza from southern Israel through a new agreement to bypass the Rafah crossing with Egypt after Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side of it earlier this month.

But it is unclear if humanitarian groups will be able to access the aid because of ongoing fighting in the area.

Egypt refuses to reopen its side of the Rafah crossing until control of the Gaza side is handed back to Palestinians. It agreed to temporarily divert traffic through Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing, Gaza’s main cargo terminal, after a call between US President Joe Biden and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

But that crossing has been largely inaccessible because of fighting linked to Israel’s offensive in the nearby city of Rafah. Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks to enter, but United Nations agencies say it is usually too dangerous to retrieve the aid on the other side.

Smoke rises near Gaza border
Rocket attacks in areas near the Gaza border have been common since the war began in October (Ramez Habboub/AP)

The war between Israel and Hamas, now in its eighth month, has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials. Around 80% of the population’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes, severe hunger is widespread and UN officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.

Hamas triggered the war with its October 7 attack into Israel, in which militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized 250 hostages.

Hamas is still holding some 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a ceasefire last year.

Hamas claims to have captured an Israeli soldier during recent fighting in northern Gaza and released a video late on Saturday showing a wounded man being dragged through a tunnel.

The Israeli military denied any of its soldiers had been captured, and Hamas did not provide any other evidence to substantiate its claim.

Egypt’s state-run Al-Qahera TV aired footage of what it said were trucks entering Gaza through Kerem Shalom on Sunday.

Khaled Zayed, head of the Egyptian Red Crescent in the Sinai Peninsula, which handles the delivery of aid from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, said 200 aid trucks and four fuel trucks are scheduled to be sent to Kerem Shalom on Sunday.

Southern Gaza has been largely cut off from aid since Israel launched what it says is a limited incursion into Rafah on May 6. Since then, over one million Palestinians have fled the city, with most having already been displaced from other parts of the besieged territory.

Northern Gaza, which has been largely isolated by Israeli troops for months and where the UN’s World Food Programme says famine is already under way, is still receiving aid through two land routes that Israel opened in the face of worldwide outrage after Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers in April.

A few dozen trucks have also been entering Gaza daily through a US-built floating pier, but its capacity remains far below the 150 trucks a day that officials had hoped for. Aid groups say the territory needs a total of 600 trucks a day to meet colossal humanitarian needs.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Protesters called for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign (Abir Sultan/AP)

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing growing pressure from the public at home to make a deal with Hamas to free the remaining hostages, something Hamas has refused to do without guarantees for an end to the war and the full withdrawal of Israeli troops. Mr Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have ruled that out.

Scuffles broke out between Israeli police and protesters in Tel Aviv on Saturday night after thousands gathered to demonstrate against the government and demand the return of the hostages. The protesters called for Mr Netanyahu’s resignation and demanded an election.

International pressure is also growing, as the war leaves Israel increasingly isolated on the world stage.

Last week, three European countries announced they would recognise a Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Mr Netanyahu and Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant, along with three Hamas leaders.

On Friday, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah. The top United Nations court also said Israel must give war crimes investigators access to Gaza.

Israel is unlikely to comply with the orders, and has sharply condemned the ICC’s move towards arrest warrants for its leaders. Israel says it makes every effort to avoid harming civilians and blames their deaths on Hamas because the militants operate in dense, residential areas.

The Gaza Health Ministry said on Sunday that the bodies of 81 people killed by Israeli strikes had been brought to local hospitals over the past 24 hours.

That brings the overall Palestinian death toll from the war to at least 35,984. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and fighters in its count.

The Israeli government has said 14,000 militants and 16,000 civilians have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, without providing evidence.

By Press Association

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