Rockets pound Israel two days after truce ends

December 22nd, 2008 - 3:35 am ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv/Gaza City, Dec 22 (DPA) Palestinian militants pounded Israel with rockets Sunday, and Israel launched an air strike against a rocket-launching squad, as violence returned to southern Israel and the Gaza Strip after the end of a six-month truce.The radical Islamic Jihad group took credit Sunday for firing at least 10 of the 15 rockets that hit southern Israel by late Sunday afternoon, bringing to around 60 the number of missiles and mortars fired into Israeli areas around the Gaza Strip since the truce ended Friday morning.

The group also vowed to respond to any Israeli military operation in the salient in wake of the rocket barrages.

“The Palestinian resistance deals with the Israeli threats seriously and will respond strongly to the Israeli aggression,” an Islamic Jihad spokesman, Abu Ahmad, said.

He said the rockets fired Sunday were a response to what he termed “Israeli attacks against jailed Palestinian prisoners,” referring to a riot in an Israeli-run prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah Saturday.

One Israeli was lightly wounded by one of the rockets fired Sunday morning, and a missile scored a direct hit on a house in the town of Sderot, which lies about two kilometres from the Strip.

There were no injuries reported in the Israeli air strike.

The rocket attacks have increased sharply since Friday, when the six-month Egyptian-brokered truce came to an end and was not renewed by Gazan militant organizations.

Both Israel and Hamas, which administers the Gaza Strip, have been trading accusations over who is to blame for the current state of affairs, with Hamas saying the rockets are a response to Israel’s tight siege of the Gaza Strip, and Israel saying the siege is a response to the rocket attacks.

Analysts have been predicting that Israel and Hamas are headed for a full-scale military clash in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday morning that Israel “will take the necessary measures with the necessary responsibility.”

He did not elaborate, but told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that “a responsible government is neither eager for battle, nor does it shy away from it. … The State of Israel will know when to respond correctly and with the necessary responsibility.”

A spokesman for Hamas, which Israel sees as bearing ultimate responsibility for the rockets, given its control of the Gaza Strip, said the movement’s leaders have taken “preventive procedures” to face what he called “the Israeli escalation.”

“We are facing an enemy and a wide offensive and this requires taking all the procedures to remain in the field of resistance,” Fawzi Barhoom said.

His comments come amid speculation that Israel could respond to the rocket surge by targeting Hamas leaders, a tactic it has used previously. In 2004, Israeli forces assassinated Hamas founders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Ranteesi.

Another Hamas spokesman Sunday denied any knowledge of contacts to renew the ceasefire.

Spokesman Ismail Radwan said reports that Egypt was pressuring Hamas to renew the truce were only “trial balloons” intended to gauge the extent to which the Islamist organization was interested in resuming the truce.

“The lull has expired and we will not renew it,” he said.

Yuval Diskin, director of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security organization, was quoted Sunday as telling the Israeli cabinet that Hamas now had rockets which could hit Israeli cities.

The Israel Ynet news site quoted Diskin as telling the ministers at that Hamas wanted to renew the truce, but only with improved conditions, including extending the ceasefire to the West Bank, where Israeli operations against the militant organizations continued during the six-month truce.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an end to the violence and a continuation of the truce, saying he is “extremely concerned” and warning of the consequences for civilians in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

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