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story.lead_photo.caption An explosion caused by Israeli airstrikes is seen on Gaza City, early Friday, March 15, 2019. Israeli warplanes attacked militant targets in the southern Gaza Strip early Friday in response to a rare rocket attack on the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, as the sides appeared to be hurtling toward a new round of violence. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

JERUSALEM -- Israeli warplanes attacked militant targets in the southern Gaza Strip early today in response to a rare rocket attack on the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, as the sides appeared to be hurtling toward a new round of violence.

The rocket attack Thursday night caught the Israeli military off guard and marked the first time that Tel Aviv, some 50 miles north of Gaza, has been targeted since a 2014 war. Though the attack caused no damage or injuries, it was a significant escalation and set the stage for a tough Israeli reprisal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting with his military chief and other top security officials. Shortly after, Israeli warplanes attacked targets in southern and central Gaza.

The blasts were so powerful that smoke could be seen in Gaza City, 15 miles away from some of the strikes.

The Israeli military said it was targeting "terror sites" in Gaza, but gave no further details. Palestinian media said naval bases belonging to the ruling Hamas group had been struck. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Minutes later, the Israeli military reported air raid sirens in southern Israel. It said it had identified a launch attempt out of Gaza, but the rocket misfired and landed inside Palestinian territory.

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza in 2007. Smaller flare-ups have occurred sporadically since Israel and Hamas fought their last war, in 2014.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire coming out of the territory. Hamas possesses a large arsenal of rockets and missiles capable of striking deep inside Israel.

Hamas denied responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv, saying the rockets were launched when the group's military wing was meeting with Egyptian mediators to try to strengthen a cease-fire with Israel.

In an unusual step that indicated Hamas was attempting to prevent further escalation, the Hamas Interior Ministry said the rocket fire went "against the national consensus" and promised to take action against the perpetrators.

But Israel's military concluded that Hamas did fire two rockets toward Tel Aviv. In a statement early today, the army said "we can confirm" that Hamas carried out the rocket attack.

A Section on 03/15/2019

Print Headline: Israel counters Gaza rocket attack

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