Israel, Palestinians continue to exchange fire; Hamas ends truce
JERUSALEM //Israel's military and fighters in the Gaza Strip traded fire for a third-straight day yesterday, in an escalation that prompted the Palestinian territory's Hamas rulers to drop its informal truce with Israel.
The situation spurred the Arab League to announce a special meeting today, which the Cairo-based organisation's deputy secretary-general, Ahmad Bin Helli, said would discuss "the dangerous consequences of the Israeli assault on Gaza".
Israeli air strikes in Gaza reportedly killed at least 15 people and wounded 40 others during fighting on Thursday and Friday, but no immediate figures were available from the barrages that continued through yesterday.
Israel's military said it struck multiple targets overnight Friday and early yesterday, part of its retaliation for a brazen attack by militants on Thursday that killed eight people and wounded as many as 40 near the southern city of Eilat.
"Aircraft targeted two terror tunnels and a weapons storage facility in the southern Gaza Strip, as well as a terror activity site in the northern Gaza Strip," Israel's military said in a statement.
"The terror tunnel was intended for the infiltration of terrorists into Israeli territory and for executing terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers."
Hamas has not claimed responsibility for the Eilat attack or the retaliatory strikes.
But the Islamist group's military wing, the Izzedine Al Qassam brigades, announced on a Hamas-run radio station that it was calling off its de facto truce with Israel, saying there "is no truce with the Israeli occupation under the continuation of committing massacres against the Palestinian people without justification".
"We call for groups to join in calling against the crimes of the Israeli occupation."
The Islamist group introduced the truce as informal policy following Israel's three-week war on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, which began in December 2008.
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported 30 projectiles fired into Israel on Friday. The military cited another 12 yesterday morning, striking various locations across the southern part of the country.
Many of the rockets and mortars appear to have struck mostly uninhabited areas in Israel, though more than a half-dozen Israelis have been treated for shock while a mortar damaged a building in Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council. Rockets fired on the Israeli city of Ashdod reportedly injured three illegal Palestinian workers.
"One rocket hit a house, causing damage but no casualties," said Luba Samri, an Israeli police spokesperson. "The second fell on open ground, among sand dunes, where it wounded three people, Palestinians staying in Israel illegally, injuring two seriously and one moderately."
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), has instructed his United Nations emissary to call for an urgent Security Council session to halt the escalating attacks, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported yesterday. Officials in the West Bank's governing authority have vowed the violence would not dissuade them from approaching the United Nations in September to win recognition for a Palestinian state.
Israel's military said it holds Hamas responsible for Thursday's attack. But it and other Gaza-based groups have denied involvement, including the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group of both Islamist and secular-leaning fighters that Israel identified on Thursday as the culprit.
Islamic Tawhid wal Jihad, which carried out attacks in Egypt's Sinai region in 2004 and 2006, issued a statement praising Gaza's retaliation. While not claiming responsibility for the recent attack, the group - one of a number of splinter militant groups in Gaza at odds with Hamas - called the rocket fire a message to Israel and Egypt, the US-based SITE intelligence group, said.
"They sent them [Israel] and the guards of their borders in the Egyptian army, a clear message saying that the land of Egypt and the mountains of Sinai have entered a new phase... of conflict with the enemies of Allah, the Jews and their henchmen," SITE quoted the statement as saying.
* Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse
Published: August 21, 2011 04:00 AM