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Fire and smoke rise above buildings in Gaza City as Israel launched air strikes on the Palestinian enclave early on February 2, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

GAZA CITY: Israeli warplanes struck Gaza early on Thursday, drawing retaliatory rocket fire from Palestinian militants, as violence flared despite US calls for “urgent steps” to restore calm.

Israel said the pre-dawn strikes were in response to an earlier rocket launch and targeted military training camps used by Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.

A statement from the Israeli military said fighter jets had “struck a production site for raw chemical material production, preservation and storage along with a weapon manufacturing site” belonging to Hamas.

The strikes came “in response to the rocket launch from the Gaza Strip into Israel earlier” Wednesday.

“(Hamas) will face the consequences of the security violations against Israel,” the army said on Twitter.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant vowed that Israel stood ready to respond to any attack.

“Every attempt to harm our citizens will be met with the full force of the IDF.”

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem called the Israeli strikes “a continuation of the cycle of aggression against the Palestinian people”.

He accused Israel of “opening the door to escalation on the ground”.

During talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged both sides to prevent further bloodshed.

He expressed sorrow for “innocent” Palestinians killed in months of spiralling violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, warning that the Palestinian people faced “a shrinking horizon of hope”.

Escalating violence

The US top diplomat’s visit came after a deadly upsurge in violence in the West Bank last week.

A Palestinian shot dead seven people outside a synagogue in an Israeli settler neighbourhood of annexed east Jerusalem on Friday, a day after the deadliest army raid in years in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians.

The synagogue attack on the Jewish Sabbath was the deadliest targeting Israeli civilians in more than a decade and was celebrated by many Palestinians in Gaza and across the West Bank.

Israel said its deadly raid on Jenin refugee camp targeted Islamic Jihad militants. An 11th Palestinian was killed elsewhere in the West Bank that day.

This year the conflict has killed 35 Palestinians - including attackers, militants and civilians - as well as the six Israeli civilians, including a child, and one Ukrainian, killed on Friday.