Israeli aircraft bombed targets across the Gaza Strip and Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the second day of cross-border fighting that erupted in the last stretch of a closely contested race for Israeli prime minister between the long-serving incumbent and an ex-army chief.
The latest violence was triggered by a surprise rocket fired early Monday from Gaza, a territory ruled since 2007 by the Islamic militant group Hamas. The rocket slammed into a house in central Israel and injured seven people.
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would cut short a visit to Washington, Israel sent troop reinforcements to the Gaza border and Hamas leaders went into hiding — signals that both sides are heading into perhaps the most serious confrontation since a 2014 Israel-Hamas war.
Late Monday, Hamas announced a cease-fire had been brokered by Egyptian mediators, but the cross-border strikes continued into early Tuesday.
The conflagration comes at a time when both Netanyahu and his Hamas foes are in desperate situations, with little incentive to de-escalate quickly.
Netanyahu is in a tight race for re-election against former army chief Benny Gantz. Just two weeks before the April 9 vote, he faces tough criticism from political rivals, including in his own right-wing political camp, who accuse him of being too soft on Hamas.
Hamas, meanwhile, is under growing pressure domestically because of its failure to get Israel and Egypt to ease their Gaza border blockade, imposed after the 2007 Hamas takeover.
Netanyahu signaled a tough response.
"Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this," he declared during a White House meeting with President Donald Trump.
"Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression," he said. "We will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state."
Israel opened public bomb shelters in most major cities and civil defense authorities canceled sports events and public transportation in southern Israel.
The Israeli army said several dozen rockets had been fired into Israel on Monday and Tuesday, as air raid sirens wailed across southern Israel. The army said nearly all rockets were either intercepted or landed in open areas.
Israeli airstrikes hit military sites for Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group. Gaza's Health Ministry said seven Palestinians were injured in the airstrikes.
Targets included the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The Israeli military confirmed the bombing, saying the building had "served as an office for many military meetings."
Haniyeh issued a statement warning Israel against heavy retaliation. He said the Palestinian people "will not surrender" and its militant factions "will deter the enemy if it exceeds the red lines."
Another blast destroyed a multistory building in Gaza City that Israel said had served as a Hamas military intelligence headquarters. The airstrike was so powerful it sent debris flying onto the roof of The Associated Press bureau on the 11th floor of a nearby high-rise.
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