IAF targets smuggling tunnels in Gaza

Second air strike in as many days retaliates for Gaza rockets.

Katyusha 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Katyusha 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Israeli Air Force struck targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Saturday in what the IDF said was retaliation for a Kassam rocket fired into Israel which struck near Sderot damaging a building.
The target of the strike was a tunnel used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip, said IDF Spokesperson.
"The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to hurt Israeli citizens or soldiers and will continue to demonstrate perseverance and strength against anyone attempting to terrorize Israel," said the announcement.
The statement added that the IDF holds Hamas responsible for maintaining peace and quiet in Gaza.
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The air strike was the second such retaliatory mission undertaken by the IAF in as many days
On Friday night, a top Hamas commander was killed and another 11 Gazans were wounded by an Israeli air strike that came in response to a Katyusha attack on Ashkelon earlier in the day.
Palestinians continued firing rockets over the weekend.
Late Saturday evening, a Kassam rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip toward the western Negev.
The rocket landed outside of Sderot, hitting a public building that was empty at the time. There were no reports of casualties, but the building’s roof and three rooms inside it were damaged.
Hamas officials in Gaza identified the dead man as Issa Batran, 42, a commander of the group’s Izzadin Kassam military wing in central Gaza and a senior rocket maker.
According to Hamas, Batran had survived several previous Israeli attempts to kill him, but his wife and five of his children died during an attempt to target him in the Bureij refugee camp during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009.
“Hamas will not be quiet over the blood of its martyrs,” spokesman Hamad al- Rakab said. “Israel is opening all the gates of fire. This blood will cascade into rage and fire.”
IAF missiles target smuggling tunnel
Israel Air Force missiles also targeted a smuggling tunnel along the Gaza-Egyptian border and a weapons manufacturing plant in the central Strip.
The Grad-model Katyusha rocket that struck southern Ashkelon on Friday morning damaged an apartment building and sent a number of residents into shock. The attack, attributed to Hamas, was a sharp break from the terrorist group’s policy since Operation Cast Lead of refraining from rocket attacks against Israel.
Defense officials said it was possible that the rocket, which broke a period of relative quiet in the South, came in response to the Arab League’s decision on Thursday to authorize the Palestinian Authority to negotiate directly with Israel.
“The IDF remains committed to protecting the citizens of Israel and will continue to act against terrorism. The IDF holds Hamas solely responsible for terrorism emanating from the Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement.
In closed talks, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said of the attack, “Israel views this very seriously.”
The Foreign Ministry said that the attack was a clear violation of international law and asked its ambassador to the UN in New York, Gabriela Shalev, to complain to the Security Council. The ministry also asked its ambassador in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar, to send a letter to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navanethem Pillay asking her to condemn the attack.
“The indiscriminate launching of rockets at civilians and civilian objects amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he wrote. He noted that it came just after the Arab League had authorized the Palestinian Authority to enter direct talks with Israel.
The attack “seriously violates international law and undermines the peace process and the efforts to renew direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” said the ambassador.
UN calls rocket attack an act of terrorism
The United Nations in Israel issued an unusually harsh statement against the rocket attack through Richard Miron, spokesman for UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process Robert Serry.
Serry regularly issues condemnations of Israel. But on Friday his office said that the rocket attack on Ashkelon was an act of terrorism. “Indiscriminate rocket fire against civilians is completely unacceptable and constitutes a terrorist attack.
“We call on the de-facto authorities in Gaza to ensure that these kinds of actions do not occur.
“Violent actions must not be allowed to undermine progress in the ongoing talks between Israel and the Palestinians. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law,” said Serry’s office.
The US response by contrast was more mild.
“The United States is deeply concerned about rocket attacks originating in Gaza and calls on all parties to protect innocent lives. In an effort to avoid an escalation of the situation, we encourage all parties to exercise restraint,” a State Department official said Friday.
Herb Keinon and Hilary Krieger contributed to this report