Israeli aircraft and ground forces struck Gaza on Friday, killing two Hamas fighters and three civilians in a surge of fighting sparked by a Palestinian rocket attack on an Israeli school bus the day before.
Just over two years after rocket fire from Gaza triggered a devastating Israeli military offensive in the territory, Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers seem on the brink of another round of intense violence. In Thursday’s bus attack, Gaza militants hit an Israeli school bus near the border with an anti-tank rocket, badly wounding the driver and a 16-year-old boy.
By Friday morning, Israel’s ongoing retaliation had killed 10 Gazans — five militants, a policeman and four civilians – and wounded 45. The dead included three civilians killed by Israeli tank fire and two militants killed in an air strike, both near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis.
Hamas, which had largely held its fire since Israel’s last major offensive, claimed responsibility for the bus attack.
Most of the schoolchildren on the bus, clearly identifiable as a civilian vehicle, got off shortly before the attack. Had the bus been full, broader Israeli retaliation would have been all but inevitable and the region — already destabilized by the popular revolts sweeping the Arab world — could have been drawn into another war.
It is unclear if Hamas was trying to provoke a new conflagration, if it was not fully in control of all of its fighters, or if it believes Israel would pull back before invading Gaza again. Israel was condemned internationally after the last incursion.
Hamas said the rocket attack was in retaliation for the killing of three fighters in an air strike earlier in the week. At around midnight on Thursday, with Gaza rocked by explosions, the organization announced a cease-fire. The Israeli strikes continued, hitting Hamas facilities and smuggling tunnels. Electricity lines and transformers were damaged, causing power blackouts in some parts of the territory, according to Jamal Dardsawi, a spokesman for Gaza’s Electric Distribution Company. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday condemned the bus attack and expressed concern over civilian casualties in Israel’s strikes in Gaza. He called for “de-escalation and calm to prevent any further bloodshed.”
The new round of fighting saw a potentially significant strategic breakthrough.
After years of development by an Israeli defense contractor, the Israeli military made use of a new missile-defense system for the first time on Thursday. The Iron Dome system fired an interceptor missile at an incoming Palestinian rocket aimed at an Israeli city, shooting it down, the military said. Agencies