December 18, 2017 / 8:30 AM / a year ago

Israel strikes Hamas targets in Gaza after Palestinian rocket attacks

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli military said it attacked a Hamas training compound in Gaza on Monday in response to rocket strikes from the Palestinian enclave, which have surged since U.S. President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Dec 6.

Neither side reported any casualties in the overnight shelling exchange, which occurred days before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visits Israel and neighbouring Egypt, which also borders Gaza and is involved in its internal politics.

Militants in Gaza, territory controlled by the Hamas Islamist group, have launched more than a dozen rockets into southern Israel over the last two weeks, the most intensive attacks since a seven-week-long Gaza war in 2014.

Two rockets were fired late on Sunday, one of them exploding inside an Israeli border community and the other hitting an open area, the military said. Another rocket launched early on Monday fell short inside Gaza, it said.

Three structures in a Hamas training camp were hit in the Israeli counter-strike, the military said.

Hamas usually evacuates such facilities when tensions rise, and Israel’s choice of the low-profile target appeared to signal a desire to avoid more serious confrontation with the group.

“Israel does not seek escalation,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Army Radio.

But Zeev Elkin, another member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said in an interview with the radio station that Israel’s military response would “have to be harshened” if the rocket fire did not stop.

Israeli officials have blamed the fire on smaller militant groups in Gaza and called on Hamas to rein them in. Should Hamas fail to do so, both Shaked and Elkin said, Israel could eventually target the group’s leadership for attack.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; editing by John Stonestreet

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