Al Jazeera producer Ashraf Amritti, reporting from Gaza, said that at least 10 Israeli missiles stuck overnight, with Israeli F-16 aicraft and Apache attack helicopters flying above the area.

"It wasn't an easy night for people in Gaza. Air strikes started just after midnight," Amritti said.

An Israeli statement released after the air raid said that six sites had been targeted, including five smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip and a weapons manufacturing site.

Amritti said that the weapons manufacturing site in Gaza City was described as a metal workshop by Gazans.

'Continued aggression'

A previously unknown Gaza group, Ansar al-Sunna, as well as the al-Aqsa Martrys Brigades, a wing of the mainstream Fatah movement, both claimed responsibility for the rocket attack from Gaza that preceded the air raids.

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"The jihadist mission came in response to the Zionist assaults against the Ibrahimi and al-Aqsa mosques and the continued Zionist aggression against our people in Jerusalem," Ansar al-Sunna said in a statement.

Matan Vilnai, the Israeli deputy defence minister, said that regardless of any claims of responsibility, Israel blamed the rocket strike on Hamas, the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip.

If Hamas did not prevent such attacks, Israel would act, he warned.

"Israel is not interested in a military confrontation but it will not allow its citizens to be fired upon," Vilnai told defence officials at a planning meeting.
Silvan Shalom, the Israeli vice-prime minister, described the attack as "a crossing of the red line, which Israel cannot accept. The Israeli response will be appropriate. It will be strong".

Hamas in return, blamed Israel's behaviour for the escalation.

"The government of the Zionist enemy, which has launched a war against the Palestinian people and against holy sites and al-Aqsa mosque, bears the responsibility for all the escalation," Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said.