Israeli warplanes killed two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after officials warned of tougher action if rocket fire from the area doesn’t stop.
The late night attack raises to 12 the number of Palestinians killed since Oct. 29, Gaza Strip health official Adham Abu Selmeya said by phone. One Israeli was killed in a Palestinian rocket attack.
“Sooner or later we will have to respond in a much more aggressive way,” Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said yesterday in an interview with Israeli Army Radio.
The death toll is 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. 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.
The fighting had tapered off last night after Islamic Jihad said at midday that it would accept an Egyptian-brokered cease- fire. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel doesn’t “want the situation to deteriorate, but we will defend ourselves.”
Islamic Jihad “responded to the truce efforts while reserving our right to respond to any aggression,” said the movement’s spokesman, Abu Ahmed.
The Israeli military said in a statement that its aircraft last night fired at a squad that had shot a rocket at southern Israel.
The army “will continue to operate with strength and determination against anyone who uses terror against the State of Israel,” the statement said.
Two Palestinian militants were killed in the attack, Abu Selmeya said.
The first casualties in the latest round of fighting came when Israeli aircraft struck an Islamic Jihad training base on Oct. 29. Five people were killed, 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 five 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.
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.”
–With assistance by Alisa Odenheimer in Jerusalem. Editors: Louis Meixler, Ben Holland.
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