The Israeli military has begun striking Hamas targets throughout Gaza, according to local residents and the Israeli military.
Residents in the northern part of the Gaza Strip reported hearing the sounds of explosions on Monday evening. Local media reported that air strikes landed in an agricultural area east of Khan Younis in Gaza’s south.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from the Gaza-Israel border, said several empty buildings associated with Hamas have been hit.
“We’ve seen several plumes of smoke coming up from the Gaza skyline behind us and we’ve seen confirmation from the Israeli military that these strikes have begun.
Flames and smoke are seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City [Mahmud Hams/AFP]
“From our colleagues inside Gaza, we’re hearing that so far, the targets seem to have been empty training camps associated with Hamas’ military wing […] also a sea base as well,” Fawcett said.
Later he said a building “right in the middle of densely populated Gaza city” had been “entirely destroyed”.
Ambulances were on the scene, but there had four small warning explosions prior to the largest one that flattened the building that may have allowed people to get out of the area.
Israel’s military action came after a rocket, allegedly fired from the Gaza Strip, struck a home in central Israel on early Monday, wounding seven.
Israel has blamed Hamas for the attack.
When asked whether the group was responsible for the rocket launch towards Israel on Monday Hamas spokesman Abdullatif al-Kanoo, told Al Jazeera:
“The Israelis continue to impose a crippling siege on the Gaza Strip and practice all kinds of aggression against Palestinians … Therefore, the Israeli occupation should bear the consequences of its actions against our people in Gaza and the West Bank and in Jerusalem as well.
Hamas will not leave our people undeterred … the resistance will strike back if needed”.
He condemned the Israeli response.
“The current Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip reflects its criminal nature. The Palestinian resistance will not allow the occupation to oppress its people.”
Warnings to civilians
Hamas’ political chief Ismail Haniya called for unity to address Israeli attacks
“The Palestinian cause is being attacked on various fronts – in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, as well as inside Israeli jails.
“We must face this onslaught with a united national front, and in coordination with our Arab allies … Our people and the resistance will not surrender if the occupation crosses red lines”.
Ashraf al-Qudrah, spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry, said hospitals and medical points across the strip are ready and on high alert.
The health ministry has also called on residents to take precautions as Israel begins to launch strikes across Gaza.
Israel issued a similar warning about an hour before the raids began, telling Israeli residents to open bomb shelters in the expectation of potential rocket fire coming from inside Gaza in response.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “gravely concerned” by the recent developments in Israel and the Gaza Strip and urges all sides to exercise maximum restraint, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
US-Israel ties ‘unbreakable’
Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu appeared alongside US President Donald Trump in a press conference at the White House shortly after the raids began.
Netanyahu said Israel was “responding forcefully” to what he called “wanton aggression”.
“We will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state,” he said adding that he will cut his meeting short to return to Israel.
Trump called the attack on Tel Aviv “despicable” and said that the United States “recognises Israel’s absolute right to defend itself”, describing the alliance between the US and Israel as “unbreakable”.
During the press conference, Trump signed a proclamation formally recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a move that reversed decades of US policy.
The recognition is expected to come as a boost to Netanyahu, who is running for re-election in Israel’s presidential elections next month.
An Israeli Apache helicopter releases flares as it flies over the Gaza Strip [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]
Additional reporting by Maram Humaid in Gaza