Saturday, March 10, 2012

Israeli Air Strikes Kill 15 in Gaza

Israeli air strikes kill 15 in Gaza

Sunday,11 March, 2012, at 12:23 PM Doha Time

Palestinian mourners carry the body of Zohair al-Qaisi during his funeral in Rafah yesterday
Israeli air strikes on Gaza killed 15 Palestinians, including a militant group chief, medics said yesterday, in the deadliest 24 hours in the border area in more than three years.

A Palestinian riding a motorcycle was killed and two others were wounded in an Israeli air raid close to the southern town of Rafah near the border with Egypt yesterday afternoon, Palestinian medics said.

Two men also on a motorbike were killed earlier the same day in another raid on the town of Khan Yunis, medics said.

After that report the Israeli military said an aircraft had attacked “a terrorist squad” planning to fire rockets.

The raids came as Palestinian militants fired more than 90 rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel since Friday morning, the army said.

The Palestinian barrage wounded four people, one of them seriously, Israeli military sources said. Israeli media said three of those wounded were Thai labourers working on a farm near the border with the Gaza Strip.

Residents interviewed on radio and television said they had been told to stay close to bomb shelters and that large public gatherings had been banned, leading to the cancellation of several football matches yesterday.

An army statement said earlier that the air force had attacked a range of targets in Gaza since Friday, while Palestinian medics said a total of 15 Palestinians were killed.

One of the strikes killed the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, Zohair al-Qaisi, and fellow member Mahmud Hanani, the ultra-hardline militant group said.

The PRC threatened reprisals for Qaisi’s death, while the Al Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, said the air strikes also killed 10 of its members.

It was the deadly 24-hour period on the Gaza-Israel border since a devastating Israeli assault in December 2008-January 2009 aimed at halting Palestinian rocket attacks.

Thousands of mourners, many chanting calls for revenge and firing automatic weapons into the air, buried the 12 Palestinians killed earlier at funerals yesterday across Gaza.

About 1,000 took part in Qaisi’s funeral in Rafah.

Palestinian security officials said that at one funeral, east of Gaza City and close to the Israeli border fence, Israeli troops opened fire at a crowd of mourners, wounding four people, one in the head.

The army had no immediate comment.

The Israeli military said its air raids were “in direct response to the rocket fire at Israeli communities in southern Israel.”

“Aircraft targeted a terrorist in the central Gaza Strip and six additional terrorist squads who were in the final stages of preparing to fire rockets at Israel from separate locations in the northern and the central Gaza Strip.”

The PRC and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, said they fired rockets into Israel on Friday.

The Palestinian WAFA news agency quoted a statement by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority condemning Israel’s retaliation, saying it would “escalate the circle of violence in the region.”

The Israeli military said Qaisi “was among the leaders who planned, funded and directed” a deadly cross-border attack into southern Israel from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula last August.

In that attack, gunmen carried out a co-ordinated series of shooting ambushes on buses and cars on Route 12, which runs along Egypt’s border, 20km north of the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat. Eight people were killed and more than 25 wounded in those attacks.

The PRC militants killed on Friday night were also “planning a combined terror attack that was to take place via Sinai in the coming days,” the military said.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, has maintained a tacit truce with Israel, but other Palestinian groups regularly fire rockets and mortars across the border, often sparking retaliatory air strikes. The relatively small PRC is one of the most active.

“We are not committed to the truce; we will respond very strongly to this (Israeli) crime,” said Abu Ataya, a spokesman for the PRC’s military wing, the Al-Nasser Salaheddin Brigades.

Hamas also branded the killings a crime. “The Al-Qassam Brigades mourn the martyr leader Zohair Qaisi and martyr Mahmud Hanani and confirm that their blood will not be wasted,” the group’s military wing said.

“The recent Zionist escalation... comes as a part of the destabilisation of a stable security situation in the Gaza Strip,” the Hamas-run Gaza government’s interior ministry said.

Quartet to meet tomorrow at United Nations amid stalled peace talks

The Quartet of Middle East negotiators - the US, Russia, the UN and European Union - will meet tomorrow to discuss the long-stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the UN said.

The UN press office on Friday said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would meet at UN headquarters ahead of a special UN Security Council session on the Arab Spring uprisings.

The other Quartet principals - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Quartet envoy Tony Blair - will participate via video link.

It was unclear whether the group planned to issue a statement to encourage a resumption of talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, an issue that has been overshadowed by the debate between Israel and Washington over a possible military strike on Iran due to Tehran’s nuclear program.

Ban Ki-moon said in Jerusalem last month that Israel and the Palestinians were running out of time to solve their conflict and ought to give the highest priority to resuming peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as a condition for negotiations, has demanded that Israel agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on all lands occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to accept that request and has balked at the Palestinians’ demands to freeze Israeli settlement activities on lands the Palestinians want for a future state.

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