Israel says its warplanes targeted Hamas positions in retaliation for rocket attacks from the blockaded Palestinian enclave. The skirmish comes as Tel Aviv advances plans to build nearly 800 illegal homes in occupied West Bank.

A Palestinian man is seen reflected in broken glass in a mosque damaged in an Israeli air strike in Gaza on December 26, 2020.
A Palestinian man is seen reflected in broken glass in a mosque damaged in an Israeli air strike in Gaza on December 26, 2020. (Reuters)

The Israeli military has said its warplanes struck Hamas facilities in Gaza in response to alleged rocket attacks at the country but Palestinian sources in the besieged enclave said the Israeli fire hit a "farmland" without causing any injuries.

Palestinian security sources in Gaza said on Monday the Israeli fire hit farmland in the southern Khan Yunis area of the enclave, causing damage but no injuries.

There was no immediate claim for the rocket launches from Hamas-governed Gaza.

Two rockets were fired from Gaza towards the coast near the southern city of Ashdod, according to an Israeli military statement. 

"In response...fighter jets struck military targets belonging to the Hamas terror organisation in the Gaza Strip, including tunnel digging sites," the army said.

There were no reports of any damage from Palestinian rockets, with Israeli army sources indicating they had landed in the Mediterranean Sea.

READ MORE: The traumatic and arbitrary nature of Israeli raids on Palestinian homes

Israel approves settler homes

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities advanced plans on Sunday to build nearly 800 illegal homes in occupied West Bank settlements, in a last-minute surge of approvals before the friendly Trump administration leaves office later this week.

COGAT, the Israeli defence body that authorises settlement construction, confirmed the approvals, which drew swift condemnations from the Palestinians.

The anti-settlement monitoring group Peace Now said that over 90 percent of the homes lay deep inside the West Bank, which the Palestinians seek as the heartland of a future independent state, and over 200 homes were located in unauthorised outposts that the government had decided to legalise.

Israel has stepped up illegal settlement construction during President Donald Trump's term. 

According to Peace Now, Israel approved or advanced construction of over 12,000 illegal settlement homes in 2020, the highest number in a single year since it began recording statistics in 2012.

"By promoting hundreds of settlement units, Prime Minister Netanyahu is once again putting his personal political interests over those of the country," the group said. 

"Not only will this settlement activity erode the possibility for a conflict-ending resolution with the Palestinians in the long-term, but in the short-term it needlessly sets Israel on a collision course with the incoming Biden administration."

READ MORE: Israel demolished over 700 Palestinian buildings in 2020

Netanyahu undermining Biden's Mideast policy

Netanyahu’s office said last week he would seek approvals for the latest construction projects. They include 100 homes in Tal Menashe, a settlement where an Israeli woman was killed last month in an attack for which a Palestinian man has been charged.

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured and annexed by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as part of a future independent state. 

They say the growing settler population, approaching some 500,000 people, makes it increasingly difficult to achieve their dream of independence.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Sunday's decision marked a "preemptive attempt by the Israeli government to undermine any effort that the US President-elect Joe Biden's administration might make to relaunch the stalled peace process."

READ MORE: Israel announces 800 new illegal settlements in occupied West Bank

Israel moves to rein in rights group over 'apartheid' use

Israel's education minister is banning groups that call Israel an “apartheid state” from lecturing at schools — a move that targets one of the country's leading human rights groups after it began describing both Israel and its control of the Palestinian territories as a single “apartheid” system.

The explosive term, long seen as taboo and mostly used by the country's harshest critics, is vehemently rejected by Israel's leaders and many ordinary Israelis.

Education Minister Yoav Galant tweeted late on Sunday that he had instructed the ministry’s director general to “prevent the entry of organisations calling Israel ‘an apartheid state’ or demeaning Israeli soldiers from lecturing at schools.”

In a report released last week, rights group B’Tselem said that while Palestinians live under different forms of Israeli control in the occupied West Bank, blockaded Gaza, annexed east Jerusalem and within Israel itself, they have fewer rights than Jews in the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

B'Tselem said it would not be deterred by the minister's announcement.

“B’Tselem is determined to keep with its mission of documenting reality, analyzing it, and making our findings publicly known to the Israeli public, and worldwide,” it said in a statement.

Elections in Palestinian areas

Palestinians in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank are heading for respective legislative and presidential elections in May and July, the first in 15 years.

The polls are part of a warming of ties between Hamas and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's West Bank-based Fatah party.

The dates were announced on Friday in a presidential decree by Abbas.
In the last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, Hamas won an unexpected landslide.

The polls resulted in a brief unity government but it soon collapsed. In 2007, bloody clashes erupted between the two principal Palestinian factions, with Hamas ultimately getting to govern Gaza. 

READ MORE: Israel injures several Palestinians protesting illegal settlements

Source: TRTWorld and agencies