Israeli Strikes Gaza Targets After Rocket Hits Beersheba Home

(Bloomberg) -- Israeli planes attacked 20 military targets across the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after a Palestinian rocket hit a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba and another was fired at the Tel Aviv area.

Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, and Islamic Jihad, another militant group that operates there, denied involvement and blamed rogue elements instead. An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, told reporters that only Hamas and Islamic Jihad have rockets of the type that were fired into Israel in the early morning hours, and said Israel holds Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from the area it controls.

The escalation comes after Hamas in recent weeks has intensified violent anti-Israel protests along the Gaza border. Israeli officials said a harsher response is needed, noting that the recent attacks come days after Israel allowed a shipment of fuel, paid for by Qatar, to enter Gaza in an attempt to alleviate the territory’s distress.

“The time for trying to work out an agreement is over,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Army Radio. “Now we need to move on to a more military stage.”

Israeli radio reported that the army chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Gadi Eisenkot, cut short a visit to Washington because of the rockets. School was canceled in Beersheba and Israeli communities bordering Gaza.

Israeli-Gaza confrontations have grown more serious as seven months of protests along the border have moved from weekly to almost daily. Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army snipers, according to the Gaza Health Ministry’s tally. One Israeli soldier has been killed by Palestinian sniper fire, and thousands of acres of Israeli land have been scorched by airborne kites, balloons and condoms outfitted with explosives and incendiary devices sent from the Hamas-run territory.

“Hamas is creating an enabling environment for terror and violence along the security fence,” Conricus said on a conference call. “It again shows where Hamas’s real intentions and priorities lie.”

Israel and Hamas have been trying for months to work out a cease-fire agreement under Egyptian and United Nations auspices. The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority opposes international efforts to aid Gaza and has tightened sanctions on its Hamas rivals, a step Israeli and international officials say deepens Gaza’s distress and could push the region toward war.

Several Hamas factions issued a statement saying the rocket fire was carried out by rogue elements intent on scuttling chances for a cease-fire. Ynet, citing the Israeli army, later reported that the rockets were fired by an Iran-allied offshoot of Fatah, the mainstream movement that controls the Palestinian Authority.

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