Israeli aircraft attack Hamas in Gaza after rocket hits Israeli town

GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli aircraft attacked Palestinian militant targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, wounding at least one person, witnesses said, after a rocket fired from the enclave hit an Israeli border town.

Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike, east of Gaza City October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot

Israeli police said there were no casualties in the rocket strike on Sderot. But Israel has a declared policy of responding militarily to any attack from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Three Hamas training camps and a security complex were targeted in the air strikes and a passerby was hurt, witnesses said. The Israeli military blamed Hamas for the rocket.

“Today’s (rocket) attack ... is the direct result of Hamas’s terror agenda in the Gaza Strip that encourages deliberate attacks against Israeli civilians,” spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said in a statement.

Hamas has observed a de facto ceasefire with Israel since 2014, when 2,100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were killed in a war over the territory. But small jihadist cells in the Gaza Strip occasionally fire rockets across the border.

The Palestinians hope to establish an independent state in the occupied West Bank along with the Gaza Strip. But U.S.-sponsored talks on a final peace agreement between the two sides have been frozen since 2014.

Israel has also continued building settlements in the West Bank, in moves opposed by the United States, which says such moves damage prospects for a two-state solution.

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A previously unknown group in Gaza, “The Grandchildren of the Followers of the Prophet” said in a statement posted on several websites that it carried out the Sderot attack in the name of “oppressed brothers and sisters” under Israeli occupation.

In Sderot, metal fragments and a small crater in a street marked the spot where the rocket exploded. The blast shattered windows in a nearby home and damaged a car.

Shortly after the attack, Israeli tank shells struck a Hamas observation post near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. Local residents said there were no casualties.

Several hours later, Israeli aircraft hit the training camps, in the southern and central parts of the Gaza Strip, as well as a security complex in the north, witnesses said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri issued a statement warning Israel against continuing what he termed its aggression. “Hamas stresses it can not keep silent if the escalation continues,” he said.

Militants in the Gaza Strip last fired a rocket into Israel on Aug. 21, in an incident that also caused no casualties, and drew an Israeli air strike and tank shelling.

Separately on Wednesday, the Israeli navy, which maintains a maritime blockade in the Mediterranean off the Gaza Strip to prevent munitions being smuggled in, stopped a yacht sailed by a dozen women hoping to reach Gaza and was towing it to the Israeli port of Ashdod, the military said.

Male and female forces boarded the “Zaytouna-Olivia,” a small yacht which set sail from Barcelona last month. A military spokeswoman said no force was required to stop the vessel.

Israel has stopped previous attempts to sail to Gaza and most people on board boats were deported after brief questioning.

“In accordance with international law, the Israeli navy advised the vessel numerous times to change course prior to the action. Following their refusal, the navy visited and searched the vessel in international waters in order to prevent their intended breach of the lawful maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip,” a military statement said.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem.; Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Hugh Lawson