Sirens warning of rocket fire from Gaza cut short a rally by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he campaigned for his party's primaries the following day, public television reported.

Flame and smoke are seen during an Israeli air strike in the central Gaza Strip September 11, 2019
Flame and smoke are seen during an Israeli air strike in the central Gaza Strip September 11, 2019 (Reuters)

Israeli warplanes targeted Gaza early on Thursday morning in response to alleged rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to quit an election campaign rally, Israeli media reported. 

The Israeli military said combat jets and helicopter gunships struck several targets belonging to Hamas in Gaza, according to the local media. 

Israel's military confirmed the launch that led Netanyahu to take shelter in Ashkelon, which is 12 km from the coastal Palestinian enclave, and said the rocket was shot down by an Iron Dome air defence interceptor.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility from Gaza, which is under the control of Hamas and where a smaller armed faction exchanged fire with Israel during a two-day surge of violence last month.

Israeli TV stations showed Netanyahu, who is campaigning to keep the helm of the conservative Likud party in an internal election on Thursday, being escorted off a stage by bodyguards. 

It was the second such incident after a September appearance by Netanyahu in the nearby town of Ashdod was briefly disrupted by a rocket siren.

Israel sparked the November fighting in Gaza by assassinating Baha Abu Al Atta, a commander it accused of ordering the launch against Ashdod.

"He (Al-Atta) is no longer around," a video circulated on social media showed a smiling Netanyahu saying after he retook the stage in Ashkelon, to cheers from onlookers.

In a veiled threat to retaliate for Wednesday's attack, he added: "Whoever tried to make an impression just now should pack his bags."

While Netanyahu is widely expected to retain Likud's leadership, he faces a tough battle ahead of a March general election in Israel - it's third in a year, after he and his centrist rival Benny Gantz failed to secure majorities in two previous ballots.
Netanyahu's standing has been dented by an indictment on corruption charges that he denies.

Netanyahu's failure to stem attacks from Gaza has been invoked by his political rivals.

"The situation in which Israeli citizens live at the mercy of terrorists and the prime minister of Israel is unable to tour parts of his country is a badge of shame on the security policy in the south - and a loss of deterrence that no sovereign country can accept," Gantz, a former military chief, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies