JERUSALEM — Israeli aircraft struck a series of targets in the Gaza Strip early Monday in response to rocket launches out of the Hamas-ruled territory. It was the third consecutive night of fighting between the two sides, even as Israel’s foreign minister sought to dangle incentives for calm.
Tensions have risen after last week's escape from an Israeli prison by six Palestinian inmates, as well as struggling efforts by Egypt to broker a long-term cease-fire in the wake of an 11-day war last May.
The Israeli military reported three separate rocket launches late Sunday and early Monday, saying at least two of them were intercepted by its rocket defenses. In response, it said it attacked a number of Hamas targets. There were no reports of casualties on either side.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday called for a new approach to end the cycle of fighting with Hamas, describing a plan of international investment in Gaza's infrastructure in exchange for pressure on Hamas to halt its military buildup and preserve calm.
“The policy Israel has pursued up until now hasn’t substantially changed the situation," Lapid said during a speech at Reichman University, north of Tel Aviv.
“We need to change direction,” he added.
Much about his proposal — which he said was made in consultation with the United States and other countries — has been floated before but never implemented due to the fighting, deep distrust and bitter internal divisions on both sides. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whom Lapid is to replace in 2023 under a rotation agreement, did not immediately comment on the proposal.
In the latest violence, Hamas fired rockets into Israel that were shot down by the country's Iron Dome defense system, the army said, adding that fighter jets struck a military post belonging Hamas. Within hours, the army reported a stabbing attack at the Gush Etzion Junction, south of Bethlehem.
Over the weekend, Israel caught four of the six Palestinian inmates, who tunneled out of a maximum security prison on Sept. 6. Palestinian militants responded with rocket fire. Israel's search for the last two prisoners is continuing.
Meanwhile, Egyptian-mediated efforts to deliver a long-term truce have struggled with the sides unable to agree on a system to renew Qatari payments to needy Gaza families. Israel has demanded guarantees that Hamas does not divert the money for military use.
Gaza is an impoverished territory whose population is overwhelmingly comprised of families who fled or were forced from properties in what is now Israel during the war surrounding Israel's establishment in 1948.
Hamas is pushing for Israel to end a crippling blockade that has devastated Gaza's economy, while Israel is demanding that Hamas free two captive Israeli civilians and return the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since ousting the forces of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007, a year after the Islamic militant group won Palestinian parliamentary elections.
Since then, Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and numerous smaller rounds of fighting.