Friday, March 19, 2010

Israel Hits Gaza After Announcing Plans to Build More Settlements

Friday, March 19, 2010
06:07 Mecca time, 03:07 GMT

Israel hits Gaza after rocket death

Israel had threatened a "strong" response to the earlier rocket strike from Gaza

Israeli aircraft have launched a series of strikes on Gaza, striking multiple targets in the strip.

The raids came after Israel threatened a "strong" response following the firing of a rocket from Gaza earlier on Thursday.

The rocket attack killed a Thai man working on a farm near Ashkhelon.

It was the first death caused by a missile launched from the strip since the end of Israel's war on Gaza in January 2009.

Al Jazeera producer Ashraf Amritti, reporting from Gaza, said there had been at least 10 Israeli strikes, with Israeli F-16 aicraft and Apache attack helicopters continuing to fly above the area.

An Israeli statement released after the air raid said that six sites had been targeted.

'Continued aggression'

The targets in the Israeli raids included smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border, two open areas in Khan Younis and a metal foundry near Gaza City.

A previously unknown Gaza group, Ansar al-Sunna, as well as the al-Aqsa Martrys Brigades, a wing of the mainstream Fatah movement, both claimed responsibility for the rocket attack from Gaza that preceded the air raids.

"The jihadist mission came in response to the Zionist assaults against the Ibrahimi and al-Aqsa mosques and the continued Zionist aggression against our people in Jerusalem," Ansar al-Sunna said in a statement.

Matan Vilnai, the Israeli deputy defence minister, said that regardless of any claims of responsibility, Israel blamed the rocket strike on Hamas, the Islamic movement which rules the Gaza Strip.

If Hamas did not prevent such attacks, Israel would act, he warned.

"Israel is not interested in a military confrontation but it will not allow its citizens to be fired upon," Vilnai told defence officials at a planning meeting.

Silvan Shalom, the Israeli vice prime minister, described the attacks "a crossing of the red line, which Israel cannot accept. The Israeli response will be appropriate. It will be strong".

Hamas in return, blamed Israel's behaviour for the escalation.

"The government of the Zionist enemy, which has launched a war against the Palestinian people and against holy sites and al-Aqsa mosque, bears the responsibility for all the escalation," Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said.

Ashton's visit

The rocket attack occurred as Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign affairs chief, was visiting the enclave.

Ashton, who earlier visited a UN-run girls' school in the Jabalya refugee camp, said she condemned "any kind of violence".

"We need to move forward to get the peace process moving toward a successful resolution," she said.

The attacks also come a day before the international Quartet of Middle East mediators is to meet in Moscow to discuss ways to revive peace talks frozen since December 2008.

Ashton later flew to Moscow to attend the Quartet meeting along with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and the UN chief.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, is to visit the Middle East, including Gaza, over the weekend amid mounting tension in the region as well as between Israel and the United States.

George Mitchell, the US Middle East envoy, who brokered a now troubled deal for indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians on a previous visit, is due back in the region on Sunday, a senior Palestinian official said.

Since the beginning of 2010, at least 30 projectiles, including rockets and mortars, fired from Gaza have landed in Israeli territory.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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