Israel renews Gaza air strikes after rocket firings

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA - Israel launched air strikes in Gaza yesterday after Palestinians in the territory responded to the killing of a top West Bank militant by launching rocket attacks into the Jewish state.

The flare-up in violence, which included rare Israeli artillery fire toward militants in Gaza, was one of the most serious since an Israeli pullout last month raised hopes for Middle East peacemaking.

A Palestinian woman and her two daughters were wounded in one of the air raids, which destroyed two buildings linked to Islamic Jihad and President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction. The army said militants from both groups had used the structures.

The army said the air strikes, the first such attacks in about a month, came in response to cross-border rocket barrages by Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza avenging Israel's killing of one of the group's top commanders in the West Bank.

Israel has often targeted buildings in Gaza that it says were used by militants during more than five years of violence.

Israel had said after the rocket salvoes, which caused no casualties, that it would respond to any attacks on its people. Islamic Jihad said the attacks were an "initial response" to the killing of their commander in the West Bank town of Tulkarm.

The army said troops targeted the militant and his comrade because they had masterminded past attacks against Israelis and were planning more. Israel has often raided West Bank towns in search of militants during a five-year-old uprising.

Abbas said the killing of the Islamic Jihad militant undermined his efforts to maintain calm during an eight-month ceasefire militants declared in March. He also wants to ensure violence does not disrupt a legislative election in January.

Top militant groups said last month they would stop anti-Israeli attacks from Gaza, after Israel killed several gunmen in response to similar rocket salvoes launched after Israel quit Gaza on September 12 after 38 years of occupation.

The armed groups, which included Islamic Jihad and Hamas, both of which are sworn to Israel's destruction, had said at the time that they would stop such attacks to honor the truce.

Hamas has also said it wants to ensure calm ahead of the legislative elections in January, in which the group plans to challenge Fatah for the first time.

- REUTERS

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