Hamas fires long-range rockets at Israel Reuters
By Abed Shana
GAZA (Reuters) – Hamas Islamists fired long-range rockets at a
southern Israel city on Friday after an Israeli air strike on their
Gaza stronghold in the 11th day of skirmishes that threaten a
The armed wing of the Islamist group said it fired five Grad rockets,
the longest-range weapon it has used against the Jewish state. Israel
said they hit Ashkelon, north of Gaza on the Mediterranean coast, with
Israel and Hamas blamed each other for the flare-up since November 4,
in which 12 Hamas militants have been killed by Israeli forces and
scores of rockets fired into Israel. But both shied away from
declaring an end to the Egyptian-brokered truce.
“We will continue to forcefully defend Israeli soldiers and citizens,
to thwart attempts to stage attacks when we discover them,” Israeli
Defence Minister Ehud Barak said. “At the same time, if the other side
wants to continue the calm we will definitely give it positive
Hamas took a similar stand.
“Up to this moment we are committed to the ceasefire,” said Mahmoud
al-Zahar, a Hamas leader. “Self-defense and resistance” would
continue. “We are waiting for the Israelis. If they are really
committed (to a truce) we have to address that frankly.”
The 1960s-era Soviet-made Grad rocket has a range of 25 km (15 miles).
Two of them struck Ashkelon.
Earlier, Palestinian medics said two Hamas fighters were wounded in an
Israeli air strike, which a military spokesman said was in response to
an earlier rocket attack.
After the air strike, Hamas said it fired eight shorter-range Qassam
rockets aimed at the city of Sderot.
Two Qassams hit, causing damage to buildings, an Israeli police
spokesman said. One Israeli was treated for shrapnel wounds and a
number of people suffered shock.
Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said in a statement
after consultations with defense chiefs that Israel would not tolerate
the rocket fire. It would continue to apply economic pressure on Hamas
through border crossings.
Israel has not allowed humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip since
November 4, when its troops raided the territory to destroy what the
army described as a tunnel built by militants to kidnap Israeli
Six Hamas gunmen were killed in the raid. Militants responded to the
incursion with rocket salvoes.
Israel said the crossings would remain shut for now.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to allow
urgently fuel and humanitarian aid into Gaza, where 750,000
Palestinians are in need of food.
Short of fuel, Gaza shut down its sole power plant, and rationed
electricity it gets from Israel and Egypt. Some Gaza bakeries posted
notices on Friday limiting the purchase of bread, although no major
shortages were reported.
The EU also urged Israel to let aid supplies through.
“I am profoundly concerned about the consequences for the Gazan
population of the complete closure of all Gaza crossings for
deliveries of fuel and basic humanitarian assistance,” External
Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.
Israeli troops also killed four gunmen in a raid on Wednesday,
prompting more rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.
Hamas is in conflict with the Fatah faction of Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas which holds sway in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and
is negotiating with Israel on peace terms.
The rift between them widened in 2007 as Hamas took control of Gaza.
Egypt brokered the Israel-Hamas truce, but Palestinian unity talks it
is mediating faltered earlier this month.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Allyn Fisher-Ilan; additional
reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations and Mark John in
Brussels; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Angus MacSwan)