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Israel strikes Hamas after rocket launched from Gaza forces Benjamin Netanyahu off stage

By
Darryl Coote

Dec. 25 (UPI) -- The Israeli Air Force conducted strikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip early Thursday after a rocket was launched from the embattled area into Israel, forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be rushed off stage to safety during a campaign event.

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday night the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza that set off sirens in Southern Israel.

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In response, the Israeli air force struck "a number of Hamas terror targets in Gaza," the IDF said.

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"Combat jets and helicopters struck several terror targets belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the Gaza Strip, including military compounds," the Israeli army said in a statement.

The IDF says it holds the militant Palestinian organization Hamas responsible for any aggression toward Israel that originates from Gaza.

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Netanyahu was holding an election campaign event in Ashkelon, just outside of Gaza and about 37 miles south of Tel Aviv, as sirens began to blare.

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Video of the event shows the prime minister being ushered off stage to shelter only to return minutes later.

"The person who fired at us last time is no longer with us," he said, referring to Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Abu Al Ata, who was killed by the IDF last month in a predawn attack on Gaza. "The one who fired now should start packing his belongings."

In September, two rockets were fired at the southern city of Ashdod as Netanyahu was giving a speech during a campaign event.

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"This isn't an attack on me or on Ashkelon, it's not that," he said. "These are recurring attacks on our communities, and they think that we won't hurt them or that we'll break down."

Wednesday's rocket fire came before the prime minister's Likud Party was to hold a primary vote Thursday to decide between Netanyahu and lawmaker Gideon Saar to be its leader.

Israel is to hold its third election in a year as neither Netanyahu nor his main rival Blue and White Party leader and former military chief Benny Gantz were able to form a coalition government.

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After the rocket launch from Gaza Wednesday, Gantz chastised the prime minister for failing to better protect Israeli citizens.

"The situation in which Israeli citizens are at the mercy of terrorists, and the prime minister of Israel can't tour part of his country is a badge of shame for the southern security policy, and a loss of deterrence that no sovereign state can accept," he said via Twitter. "We will replace the government, change the policy and restore deterrence and quiet to the people of the south."

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