Call for ‘reoccupation’ as Gaza and Israel trade fire
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Rafah town, in the southern Gaza Strip. Israeli warplanes carried out raids on 29 targets in Gaza, hitting bases used by militants from Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement and from Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Quds Brigade, which has so far claimed all of the rocket fire. AFP PhotoIsrali Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has warned that Israel would have no choice but to reoccupy Gaza following a renewed exchange of rockets with militants in the Hamas-controlled enclave.
“Following an attack like this, there is no alternative to a full reoccupation of the entire Gaza Strip,” he told private Channel 2 television.
Israel pounded nearly 30 targets in Gaza late March 12 and early yesterday after militants fired scores of rockets into the south. The rocket barrage, which was the heaviest since an eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers in November 2012, sent thousands of Israelis fleeing for cover across the south on March 12. Israel withdrew all troops and Jewish settlers from Gaza in summer 2005.
The latest tit-for-tat violence was sparked by an incident on March 11 when militants of the hardline Islamic Jihad group fired a mortar round at troops allegedly trying to enter southern Gaza, prompting an Israeli air strike which killed three of them.
In retaliation, Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Quds Brigades, fired scores of rockets over the border on March 12, with the group putting the number at 130. Israel responded with air strikes on 29 targets across Gaza, hitting bases used by Hamas as well as those of Islamic Jihad, which has so far claimed all of the rocket fire. Security sources in Gaza said there were no casualties in the air strikes as all the sites had been evacuated.
The army said more than 60 rockets had struck southern Israel on March 12, five of them hitting populated areas. Another three were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system. Another three rockets struck southern Israel yesterday morning. “Our policy in the south is clear. We harm those who try to harm us and respond fiercely to any attack,” Netanyahu said yesterday. “The terrorist groups in Gaza need to understand that they are dealing with a very determined government and a very strong army.”
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon blamed both Islamic Jihad and Hamas for the escalation and said anyone firing at Israel would be responsible for his own fate. “Hamas is responsible for the strip and if it does not know how to prevent fire on Israel from its territory, we will act against it and all of its broader interests,” he said. “Anyone involved in firing on Israel will be taking his life in his own hands.” Palestinian sources noted that Hamas had not joined in the rocket attacks, a sign that it hoped to avoid widening the conflict.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the military escalation in and around the Gaza Strip, including rocket fire on Israel, at a news conference in Bethlehem. “We condemn all military escalation, including rockets,” he said.
Experts said Israel was not seeking a major confrontation in the territory. “Israel has no intention of entering a major operation now,” said Yaakov Amidror, who served as national security adviser until November. “But if there’s a continued response from the other side, the IDF will have to reconsider,” he told army radio, adding that re-entering Gaza was “an option” but not one that Israel would rush into. “It depends on the other side’s decisions. Hamas is not joining in at this stage and that’s a good thing.”
Washington has denounced the rocket fire as “reprehensible” and called for an immediate halt to such “terrorist attacks.”