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Gaza violence escalates

Posted by on March 24, 2011 1 Comment

Jerusalem, March 24 (DPA) Palestinian militants fired nine projectiles, including two Russian Grad missiles, at Israel Thursday. In response, Israeli aircraft struck at targets in the Gaza Strip, on the eighth day of the latest round of creeping escalation between the sides.

The violence Thursday came a day after after a bomb blast at a bus stop in Jerusalem killed a British woman and wounded 39 Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who left for Moscow late Wednesday, had promised a “tough reaction” to that attack, adding, however, that Israel would act “responsibly and wisely”.

By late afternoon, the Gaza militias had fired three makeshift missiles, and four mortars, as well as the two Grads, a police spokesman said.

Both Grads landed in the vicinity of the port city of Ashdod, which lies about 25 km north of the Gaza Strip and has a population of around 200,00 people.

An air raid siren, which went off by mistake in the city of Rishon L’Tzion, further north, led to mistaken reports that a Grad had landed in the area.

There were no reports of injuries from any of the missiles, although several people were said to have been treated for shock.

Israel, for its part, bombed targets in Gaza through the night and during the day. An army official said those attacks were in response to the latest round of missile strikes, including the Grads fired Tuesday night and Wednesday morning at Ashdod and the city of Beersheba, which lies around 40 km east of the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian first aid officials said two militants were injured Thursday when an Israeli remote pilotless vehicle targeted them as they were preparing to launch a missile.

Israel had earlier struck at a smuggling tunnel near Rafah, on the border with Egypt, and at a Hamas training ground south of Gaza City.

The Hamas training ground is not far from Gaza City’s power station. But, contrary to earlier reports, the Palestinian witnesses said the station was not hit.

A military spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said the strikes were a response to more than 75 mortar shells and three rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israel since Saturday morning.

Taher al-Nounou, the spokesman of the de facto Hamas government in Gaza, said de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniya was “seeking to calm the situation on the ground” so as not to give Israel an “excuse” to launch a larger scale offensive in the strip.

He had made telephone calls to the leaders of militant factions, including Ramadan Shalah, the Damascus-based leader of the Islamic Jihad faction, which had fired the Grad missiles at Beersheba and Ashdod.

US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, meanwhile, arrived in Israel and was expected to press the sides to resume peace talks.

Gates met Defence Minister Ehud Barak in the afternoon and, separately, Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad Friday.

Israeli police were on the highest level of alert following Wednesday’s bomb attack in Jerusalem, the first in more than six years. The bomb was left in a bag at a bus stop opposite the city’s central bus station.

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