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Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza after rocket attack

Dec. 25, 2010 2:58 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 26, 2010 12:30 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli warplanes hit four targets in the Gaza Strip early Saturday, wounding at least two people, officials and witnesses said and knocking out power in a large swathe of the strip.

The strikes came after militants fired a mortar and rocket into Israel on Friday, according to the army.

One of the strikes in central Gaza targeted a car as it was pulling up near a site used by Hamas' military wing. Two of the occupants were wounded and taken to hospital, medics said.

Adham Abu Selmiya, a spokesman for the Hamas-run medical services, said the two men were civilians. However, witnesses said they appeared to be militants.

The blast also damaged a nearby power station, knocking out electricity in much of the area.

The other three air raids hit smuggling tunnels along the border with Egypt without causing any casualties.

Earlier, Palestinians fired a mortar shell and a rocket into Israel, also without causing casualties, the army said.

The army had no comment on the raids, but routinely responds to rocket and mortar fire with airstrikes and there has been an escalation in recent days.

A total of 23 mortars and four rockets have been launched at Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip since Sunday, the army said. One of the rockets struck near a kindergarten in a southern Israeli kibbutz, wounding a teenage girl.

On December 18, Israeli warplanes hit central Gaza, killing five militants as they were about to launch a rocket attack, according to the army and witnesses.

The Islamist movement Hamas that controls Gaza has observed a de facto truce with Israel since the end of a 22-day offensive by the Jewish state on the strip in January 2009 aimed at halting rocket fire from militants.

Attacks have since been considerably reduced, but more than 200 rockets and shells, most of them homemade, have been fired into Israel this year, according to the Israeli military.

On Friday a senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahhar, said the Islamist movement was still committed to the truce.

"We declare our commitment to respecting the truce between us and the occupier," Zahar told a gathering in the Gaza town of Khan Younis.

And he called on Israel to reciprocate and "stop incursions [into Gaza], halt killings of Palestinians and lift the blockade" imposed on the coastal enclave.
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