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Israel strikes in Gaza after deadly rocket

Gaza, March 20, 2010

Israeli aircraft struck at least seven targets in the Gaza Strip after a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave killed a Thai worker in Israel, Hamas security officials and witnesses said.

Eleven people were wounded in the series of Israeli strikes, which targeted smuggling tunnels along the border with Egypt, a metal foundry near Gaza City and the territory's non-operating airport.

The Israeli military confirmed several sites were hit, including two tunnels dug near the Israeli border fence, a weapons manufacturing site and the airport.

The air strikes were a response to five rockets fired at Israel from Gaza in the past two days, a spokesman said.

Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom had said on Thursday Israel would make a strong response to what was the first deadly rocket fire from Hamas-ruled Gaza at Israel in more than a year.

Israel also sent a letter of complaint to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is due to visit Israel at the weekend, and the UN Security Council.

Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev urged Ban to call for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Gaza militants in 2006. Hamas has demanded Israel free hundreds of the thousands of militants in its jails in exchange for the soldier.

A previously unknown group, Ansar al-Sunna, which shares the hardline ideology of al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire at Israel, as well as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a wing of the mainstream Fatah movement.

Hamas Islamists, who took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, had been urging other militant groups not to strike Israel, voicing concern about possible Israeli retaliation.

Palestinian militants in Gaza have carried out sporadic rocket and mortar bomb attacks on Israel since the end of a three-week Gaza war in January 2009, in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed, usually without causing any casualties.

The Israeli military spokesman said that more than 330 rockets have been fired from Gaza since the war. "We will continue to act against anyone who executes terror attacks against Israel," he said, reading a prepared statement.

Israel has responded to rocket fire from Gaza since the war last year. But air strikes are often tempered to avoid casualties, as a signal to Hamas that Israel holds it responsible while remaining aware that it is not behind the rocket fire, and to avoid the appearance of disrupting US-backed diplomacy in the region.

The latest air strikes took place the day of a meeting of Quartet Middle East power mediators in Moscow and just before a planned visit by US envoy George Mitchell, who is seeking to relaunch moribund peace talks in the region. – Reuters




Tags: Hamas | UN | gaza | Israel | rocket |

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