Bolstering its military intelligence with high-quality surveillance, Israel announced on Monday the launch of its new spy satellite. The Middle Eastern nation has been ramping up its surveillance capacity in order to monitor its enemies, especially Iran, whose nuclear programme is being considered a serious threat.

Called Ofek 16. the satellite was launched into space early on Monday morning from a site in central Israel by a domestically developed Shavit rocket, which has also been used to launch other Ofek satellites.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, "We will continue to strengthen and maintain Israel's capabilities on every front, in every place." The Defense Ministry went on to call the satellite "an electro-optical reconnaissance satellite with advanced capabilities." The first images will be received in about a week. State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries was the main contractor for the project and the satellite's payload was developed by defence firm Elbit Systems.

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Israel Retaliates, Strikes Hamas Sites

On Monday, it was also reported that the Israeli military had struck Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip in retaliation against rocket attacks by Gaza-based militants. Attack helicopters and fighter jets hit Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip, including "underground infrastructure", Xinhua news agency reported on Monday citing an Israeli military spokesperson as saying in a statement. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

On Sunday evening, militants in the besieged Palestinian enclave launched three projectiles at southern Israel, one of which was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, according to the army. The other two exploded in an open field, causing no injuries.

Hamas Being Held Responsible

No group claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks but the military said it considers Hamas, a group that runs Gaza, "responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it", warning the Islamic movement "will bear the consequences for actions against Israeli civilians".

Following three rounds of war and numerous clashes over the past years, Israel and the Gaza-based Hamas have largely kept an unofficial cease-fire in recent months. However, tensions have escalated in recent weeks over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intention to annex parts of the West Bank.

(With inputs from agencies)