Israel And Gaza Clash Right After New Defense Minister Takes Power

REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/Files

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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Israeli jets have attacked two Hamas targets in the Gaza strip in response to at least four rockets fired at Israel. The rocket attacks came just hours after Israel brought aboard its new defense minister.

Only one of the rockets landed in Israeli territory, with no injuries reported. The Israeli government blamed the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas for the attacks. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) claim at least 9 rockets, mortars and other munitions have been fired into Israeli territory from Gaza in 2016.

The Palestinian attacks came just hours after the Israeli government officially brought aboard its new defense minister. Plans to bring in Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the so-called “ultra-nationalist” Yisrael Beiteinu party, were initially announced Friday. In response, Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar goaded the hawkish Lieberman saying “if Lieberman is a real man, let him approach Gaza.”

“If Gaza wants to hunt him, it will hunt him,” threatened al-Zahar.

The addition of Avigdor Lieberman will give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government six additional seats in Israel’s parliament, known as the Knesset. Prior to the merger, Netanyahu’s coalition held the slimmest possible of majorities in the Knesset, with only 61 out of 120 seats.

“I welcome [Mr. Lieberman] and his party members,” said Netanyahu Wednesday. “Together with the heads of the security forces, we will continue to maintain the security of Israel’s citizens and will do so with determination and responsibility.”

The Gaza Strip has been controlled by the Hamas since 2007. Despite small-scale terrorist attacks occurring regularly within Israeli territory, Hamas and Israel have not engaged in an all-out conflict since Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The nearly two month conflict left 66 Israelis and around 2,100 Palestinians dead.

The rocket attacks, and subsequent IDF air strikes, represent a significant increase in violence after IDF and Hamas forces exchanged fire for four days near the border.

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