Friday, August 19, 2011

Israel, Gaza Trade Strikes After Attacks

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories - Gazan rockets hit southern Israel on Aug. 19 after a long night of air strikes as Israel sought to smash the militants behind desert attacks that killed eight Israelis.
As the air force pounded targets across the Gaza Strip, militants there lobbed 12 rockets at south Israel early on Aug. 19, injuring two - one seriously and one moderately - in the city of Ashdod, police said.
Several hours earlier, one Gazan was killed and 17 injured as Israel pounded targets across the strip following a day of violence in which gunmen unleashed bloody mayhem on a desert road near the Red Sea resort town of Eilat.
Six Israeli civilians, a soldier and a police officer were killed in several hours of attacks on a desert road some 12 miles north of Eilat.
Israeli warplanes responded immediately, attacking targets in southern Gaza which killed six people, including five militants from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) - the group it said was behind the violence.
The PRC vowed bitter revenge for the attack, which killed its leader and three other top cadres, and on Friday claimed responsibility for firing at least seven rockets and mortars into Israel.
Overnight, the Israeli air force hit seven targets in Gaza, including two training camps for Hamas militants, a weapons factory, two smuggling tunnels and a "terror tunnel."
Palestinian sources reported two more raids on Aug. 19, lightly injuring one person.
"The Israeli Defense Forces will not tolerate any malicious attempt to harm Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers and will not hesitate to respond with strength and determination to any element that uses terror against the State of Israel and until calm is restored," a statement said.
In Egypt, state television said two "unidentified Egyptians" had been killed by Israeli gunfire on Aug. 18 in an area near the site of the attacks; overnight security officials said three Egyptian policemen were also killed in the same area when an Israeli Apache fired a rocket at militants.
Israel officials were quick to point the finger at Gaza, although the territory's Hamas rulers denied any connection to the attacks.
But the Israeli military said it held the Islamist group ultimately responsible for violence coming from the territory it controls.
"If Hamas wants an escalation, it will pay a high price," Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai told public radio on Aug. 19, saying some form of ground operation in Gaza was not out of the question.
"All options are open, including a pin-point (ground) operation," he said.
Both sides were burying their dead on Aug. 19, with funerals in Jerusalem for the soldier and the police officer and a burial procession due to take place in southern Gaza for the five militants and the toddler.
As Israeli police went on high alert across Israel, the country's main newspapers painted a much clearer picture of how events unfolded on Aug. 18 involving an estimated 15 to 20 gunmen, some wearing Egyptian army fatigues.
The first attack saw three gunmen open fire on a packed bus heading to Eilat, injuring seven people. Shortly afterwards, they opened fire on a civilian car in the same area, killing four people.
Then one of the militants detonated an explosives-packed belt he was wearing as an empty bus drove past, blowing himself up and killing the driver.
Further gunfire was directed at another car, killing one man. The soldier and the police officer were killed in two separate gun battles with the attackers which lasted into the evening, the papers said.
Six of the attackers were killed by Israeli troops and special police forces, while the seventh blew himself up; others are believed to have fled across the Egyptian border.
Egypt's state television on Aug. 18 showed footage of rifles, grenades and army uniforms seized during an ongoing security operation in northern Sinai, while in a separate development, security officials said they had uncovered a workshop capable of producing suicide belts.

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