Israel hits Gaza after rockets disrupt Netanyahu rally
Israel bombed Hamas positions in the besieged Gaza Strip overnight in retaliation for rocket fire across the border, which cut short an election rally by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the military said Wednesday.
Netanyahu was hustled off stage when sirens warning of incoming rockets blared in the southern city of Ashdod late Tuesday, public television reported.
It came just hours after the premier pledged to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if re-elected in 17 September polls.
Israeli fighter jets "struck 15 terror targets in northern and central Gaza Strip", including a weapons factory, an attack tunnel and naval targets, the army said.
It said it would continue to hold Hamas responsible for all rocket fire that comes from the Gaza Strip, regardless of who actually fired the weapons.
A security source in Gaza confirmed a number of Hamas bases had been struck, without causing any casualties.
Both rockets fired from Gaza were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome air defence system.
Video distributed by Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party showed him returning to the stage after the all-clear and saying that Hamas was scared of him winning next Tuesday's general election.
"If it attacks us on live TV, you understand that it doesn't want us here," he told his audience.
Israel and Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
Netanyahu is running for prime minister again during 17 September polls where he will face contender Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu Party who relies on support from Israelis with roots in the former Soviet Union.
Lieberman, speaking to supporters of his nationalist Yisrael Beitenu Party said "today's event proves that Netanyahu's policy of surrender to terror is bankrupt".
Lieberman resigned as defence minister in November over a Gaza ceasefire deal which he called a "capitulation to terror".
The incident came less than three hours after Netanyahu pledged to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if re-elected.
The Jordan Valley is the border between the West Bank and Israel on its west, and Jordan on its the east.
Governments of Israel have long claimed that the Jordan Valley was part of the country and that they would never relinquish control over it.
The valley was conquered by Israel during the war in 1967, and since then has mostly been under its military and administrative control.
Israel has always maintained that it cannot give it up for reasons of security.
However, the fertile strip is a large part of the West Bank and would form an integral part of a future Palestinian state.
According to human rights group B'Tselem, the northern Dead Sea and the Jordan valley "constitute almost 30 percent of the West Bank. Nearly 65,000 Palestinians and some 11,000 [Israeli] settlers live there".
Despite Israel's currently occupation of the region, a formal annexation would lead to Israel's complete control over the region, spelling disaster for the Palestinians that currently live there and would be a further major blow to the viability of a Palestinian state.
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