The Israeli military confirmed that two rockets were fired towards central Israel on Thursday evening, with at least two loud explosions heard in the Gush Dan region.
According to the IDF, although the Iron Dome missile defense system was activated, there were no interceptions as both rockets fell in open territory.
It was the first time sirens were activated in Tel Aviv since the last war with Gaza in 2014 and several Israelis were treated for shock.
As a result of the rockets, Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be holding security consultations at the Kirya IDF Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv to discuss an Israeli response.
Local reports in Gaza said that Hamas had begun evacuating military posts in anticipation of retaliatory strikes by Israel.
While there were no special instructions given by the Home Front Command to residents of central Israel, the municipality of Tel Aviv has opened bomb shelters across the city.
According to initial reports, the two Fajr rockets were fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza, the second strongest group in the coastal enclave after Hamas. IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said that the military still does not know who fired the rockets and both PIJ and Hamas later denied reports that it was responsible, saying that it did not play a role in the launching of the rockets.
According to a report in Haaretz
, an Egyptian security delegation which had been in Gaza negotiating a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel left the Strip at Israel's request following the rocket fire.
The United Nations and the Egyptians are working from outside of Gaza to try and restore calm to the situation.
PIJ has been assessed by IDF military intelligence as a factor increasing the risk of an escalation, since it is not under the direct control of Hamas and acts independently for its own interests.
The group first fired an Iranian-made missile at Tel Aviv during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 from the blockaded coastal enclave.
US Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt took to Twitter blaming Hamas for the rocket fire, tweeting: “Hamas violently suppresses its own people demonstrating against Hamas’ rule & failures today and NOW fires rockets at cities in Israel. OUTRAGEOUS! This is what prevents the world from helping the people of Gaza! We strongly support Israel in defense of its citizens. Always!”
The IDF has warned that both Hamas and PIJ have restored their military capabilities to their pre-2014 strength, and expect that in the next war the southern communities bordering the Strip would be incessantly pounded with rockets and mortar attacks.
In late February, PIJ released a video claiming that it had developed a new missile with the help of Iran, capable of striking cities beyond Netanya. During a violent escalation between Israel and terror groups in the Strip in November, the group launched a new rocket that hit an apartment complex in the southern city of Ashkelon, killing one Palestinian man and injuring several others.
The IDF military intelligence assessment for 2019 has warned that Israel is facing a high risk of military escalation in the Gaza Strip. Based on the assessment, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi has prioritized the southern front as one which could explode into war at any moment.
In one of his first visits as chief of staff, Kochavi went to the Southern Command, met with senior officers and approved operational plans for war, including setting up a centralized administrative unit to prepare a list of potential targets in Gaza in case a war should break out.
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