Israeli Airstrikes Kill Nine in Worst Fighting in Two Months

Sunday, 30 Oct 2011 07:27 AM

Israeli aircraft struck the Gaza Strip, killing at least nine Palestinians, and one Israeli died in a rocket attack in the worst round of violence between the two sides in more than two months.

The Israeli army said it carried out five strikes against Gaza in the past 24 hours and that about 30 mortar shells and rockets hit southern Israel.

“The Israeli military’s harsh response that hit three groups launching rockets will be even harsher if necessary,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in e-mailed remarks early today. The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor closed all schools within rocket range of Gaza.

The violence came less than three weeks after Israel released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier held by Gazan militants for more than five years. It also comes as the Palestinian Authority pushes ahead with its drive to gain U.N. recognition of statehood.

“We don’t want an escalation of the situation,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told reporters while visiting Bosnia yesterday, according to the Jerusalem Post. Liberman said he hoped “with the help of neighboring countries, the international community and the Palestinian Authority, that the rocket fire will stop, otherwise there will be consequences.”

The death toll in Gaza was the highest since the last two weeks of August, when more than two dozen Palestinians were killed by Israeli strikes following a terrorist attack near the southern resort city of Eilat.

Rocket Launch

The first casualties came when Israeli aircraft struck a training base of the Islamic Jihad militant group. Five people were killed, Gaza emergency medical services head Adham Abu Selmeya said. The Israeli army said it fired on a squad that launched a rocket into Israel on Oct. 26 and which was preparing more attacks.

At least 20 rockets and mortars subsequently launched from Gaza hit several Israeli cities in the south, injuring three people, one of whom later died from his wounds, the army said. Another four Palestinians were killed in later strikes, according to Abu Selmeya.

The Israeli army said it holds the Islamic Hamas movement, which rules Gaza, responsible for attacks emanating from the strip. Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union, seized control of Gaza in 2007, ending a partnership government with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a year after winning parliamentary elections.

Shalit Agreement

“The Shalit agreement had nothing to do with the overall relationship between Israel and Hamas,” Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv, said in a telephone interview. “A number of militant groups like Islamic Jihad operate independently in Gaza, and Hamas either does not want, or is not willing, to pay the costs, to rein them in.”

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, in a statement published by the Palestinian Wafa news agency, urged Hamas and Israel to avoid an escalation. He called on Hamas “not to give Israel an opportunity to exploit the situation and relaunch a war on Gaza.”

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