Flames and smoke rise during Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on Tuesday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo
April 18 (UPI) -- Israel launched a retaliatory airstrike early Tuesday hitting Hamas terrorist group targets in Gaza after a rocket was fired from the Palestinian-controlled territory.
The rocket attack and subsequent airstrike are the first in months but occurred amid rising tensions between Palestinians and Israelis after more than 150 people were injured in confrontations with police at a holy site in Jerusalem over the weekend.
The Israel Defense forces announced the early Tuesday airstrike in a statement saying a Hamas manufacturing site in Gaza was hit.
Warplanes attacked several "components" and destroyed the weapons production facility, the Israeli Air Force added.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the airstrike hit "some empty sites" and was a "failed attempt to prevent our Palestinian people from defending the city of Jerusalem," the Times of Israel reported.
Qassem added that Hamas countered the Israel attack with its anti-aircraft defense system using surface-to-air missiles for the first time.
Israel made no comment on whether their attack was met with resistance.
Officials said the attack was in response to a rocket launched from Gaza toward Israel that set off sires near the area around the Palestinian enclave.
The rocket was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome Air Defense System.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attack targeting it from Gaza.
The airstrike occurred amid rising tensions between Palestinians and Israelis after a weekend of violence that occurred at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem.
More than 150 people were injured and hundreds were arrested over the weekend at the mosque compound, which Jews call the Temple Mount, as Palestinians and police clashed.
The violence at the mosque also follows four deadly shooting attacks in Israel in less than three weeks that have killed 14 people, mostly civilians but also police.
A number of Palestinians have also been killed by Israeli forces in the past few weeks, including two unarmed Palestinians, one a 16-year-old boy, and injured another 20 during a search-and-arrest operation conducted in the Jenin refugee camp on March 31.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has given security forces a "free hand" amid the violence to ensure the security of Israel.
On Monday, he accused Hamas of conducting a so-called incitement campaign against Israel and said "we expect everyone not to join the lies and certainly not to encourage violence against jews."
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday they are "deeply concerned" by the recent violence and call on all sides to exercise restraint.
"This department continues to closely follow the situation and continues to be in close contact with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials to seek to de-escalate tensions," he said.
Last May, 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, were killed and nearly 2,000 others were injured in Israel's two-week Operation Guardian of the Walls that was launched in response to Hamas firing rockets at Israel over its plan to forcibly displace Palestinian families from their East Jerusalem homes. Twelve Israelis were killed to Hamas' rockets.