Israel, Gaza militants exchange fire

GAZA: An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israeli forces late on Saturday. – AFP

GAZA CITY: Israeli aircraft pounded over a dozen militant targets in Gaza, the army said yesterday, after Palestinian projectile fire shattered a ceasefire reached just days ago after the worst flare-up since a 2014 war. The latest escalation came hours after thousands of Palestinians attended the funeral of a young female volunteer medic killed by Israeli fire on Gaza’s border. In a first wave of air strikes, Israeli “fighter jets targeted 10 terror sites in three military compounds belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement early yesterday.

“Among the targets were two Hamas munitions manufacturing and storage sites and a military compound,” the army said. The strikes came in retaliation for rockets fired at Israel, as well as “various terror activities approved and orchestrated by the Hamas terror organization over the weekend,” the army said. A few hours later aircraft shot at “five terror targets at a military compound belonging to the Hamas terror organization’s naval force in the northern Gaza Strip,” the army said in a separate statement. There were no reports of casualties in Gaza.

On Saturday evening, militants in the Palestinian enclave fired two projectiles at southern Israel, where air raid sirens sent residents to bomb shelters. The Iron Dome aerial defence system intercepted one projectile, while the other was believed to have fallen short of its target and landed within Gaza, according to the army. Early yesterday, four more projectiles were separately launched at Israel. Three were intercepted, the army said, with the fourth apparently hitting an open field.

Mourners call for revenge

No group in Gaza claimed responsibility for the projectile attacks, which came shortly after the Saturday funeral of Razan Al-Najjar, 21, a volunteer with the Gaza health ministry, who was fatally shot in the chest near Khan Younis on Friday. Ambulances and medical crews attended the funeral, where Najjar’s father held the white blood-stained medics’ jacket she wore when she was shot, as mourners called for revenge.

Gazans have since March 30 staged border protests demanding the return of Palestinians to land they fled or were expelled from during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation, now inside the Jewish state. The demonstrations have been accompanied by smaller clashes as youths hurl stones at Israeli soldiers and attempt to breach the border fence, at times laying explosive devices on the fence or throwing grenades.

The demonstrations and violence peaked on May 14 when at least 61 Palestinians were killed in clashes as tens of thousands of Gazans protested the US transfer of its embassy in Israel to the disputed city of Jerusalem the same day. Yesterday, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra announced the death of Mohammad Hamada, 30, who was wounded on May 14. Hamada’s death brings the toll of Gazans killed by Israeli fire since the end of March to 124.

Low-level demonstrations have continued since. Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave have also used kites carrying burning cans to set ablaze Israeli fields, torching large patches of farmland near Gaza. Following the funeral, several Gazans were wounded in clashes east of Khan Younis, the health ministry said.

The weekend launches were the first since Israel said it had struck some 65 militant sites in Gaza earlier this week in retaliation for a barrage of approximately 100 rockets and missiles fired from the territory on Tuesday and Wednesday. Palestinian Islamist groups in Gaza, including the strip’s rulers Hamas, said a ceasefire deal was reached after the escalation, although there was no confirmation from Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday accused Iran of “encouraging” Hamas and other militant Gaza groups of the violence. Yesterday, Netanyahu said his upcoming talks with key European leaders would focus “on continuing to block Iran’s nuclear program” and “blocking Iran’s plans for expansion and aggression throughout the Middle East, especially in Syria”. Netanyahu will head to Europe today for meetings in Berlin, Paris and London. – AFP

This article was published on 03/06/2018