By Ori Lewis
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile shield was launched on Sunday against Palestinian machine gun fire originating in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip, and not against incoming militant rockets, the Israeli army said.
Flaming streams of about 10 Iron Dome rockets could be seen rising into the night sky in a spectacular light show, but there was no indication that Islamist militants in Gaza had fired rockets, a military spokeswoman said.
A subsequent army statement said: "Following reports of sirens sounding in southern Israel, unusual machine gun fire towards Israel was identified. No rocket launches were identified. The (military) is looking into the circumstances which led to the activation of the Iron Dome system."
Abu Ubaida, spokesman of the Hamas armed wing, said no rockets were fired into Israel.
Earlier, Israeli media had reported that Iron Dome had intercepted a number of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. Sirens had sounded around the border area in Israel and smart phone applications that warn of incoming rockets delivered a number of alerts in quick succession.
During the Gaza war in 2014, Iron Dome interceptors largely protected Israel's heartland from thousands of incoming rockets fired by Gaza militants. Israeli media said Sunday's multiple launchings were the most intense since then.
Heightening tension around the border, Hamas began a military exercise on Sunday in which its fighters set off explosions and test-fired rockets into the sea. Gunfire echoed across Gaza as hundreds of fighters were deployed for the exercise, which is due to continue on Monday.
"The enemy (Israel) bears responsibility for any escalation and we will not stand handcuffed against any aggression," Abu Ubaida said in a statement.
The army's statement said that, in response to the machine gun fire into Israel, a tank targeted two observation posts in the northern Gaza Strip. It said it held Hamas responsible "for any terror emanating from the Gaza Strip".
Palestinian residents of Beit Hanoun said the tank fired two shells into their area at about the same time of the Iron Dome launches, but that there were no casualties.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Amir Cohen and Ran Tzabari in Ashkelon; Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Daniel Wallis)