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Jets strike Gaza after Hamas offers truce

March 21, 2011 11:33 P.M. (Updated: March 23, 2011 9:35 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli warplanes targeted sites across the Gaza Strip late Monday injuring at least 18 people including seven children, witnesses and medics said.

Ten people arrived at the Ash-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and seven others were taken to Kamal Udwan Hospital in the north, the BBC reported.

An airstrike in the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City caused considerable damage but no injuries, residents said, and at least two other nearby areas came under fire, a Ma'an correspondent said.

In Tel Aviv, an Israeli military spokesman told Ma'an that the attack targeted two "terror tunnels, two weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, and two additional terror activities sites."

The official emphasized that the attack came in response to the barrage of projectiles fired toward Israeli territory over the past week, including 50 on Saturday for which Hamas claimed responsibility.

"The IDF holds Hamas solely responsible for terror emanating from the Gaza Strip," the spokesman said. The army also "warns Hamas not to continue its aggression," he added.

Among the targets were a police post and a training facility of Hamas' military wing, said the Al-Qassam Brigades which earlier offered to stop cross-border fire into Israel if the Israelis halted attacks on Gaza.

The Al-Qassam Brigades, which lobbed about 50 mortar rounds into Israel on Saturday, made the offer in a statement released after Israeli aircraft raided the enclave earlier on Monday evening.

It said Saturday's barrage had been in response to an Israeli strike last week which killed two of its members, but that it was ready to call an end to the tit-for-tat violence if Israel also did so.

"If the enemy stops the escalation and aggression against our people we will implement the Palestinian national agreement," the statement said, referring to a truce reaffirmed by the main militant factions in January.

The offer, however, came with a warning attached: "The enemy will pay a heavy price if it continues its agression and crimes against our people in the Gaza Strip," the statement added.

In a later statement, Hamas spokesman Taher Al-Nunu said the movement's Gaza government was committed to preserving the informal truce, with the backing of other militant groups.

"The government affirms that there is consensus among the factions regarding the security situation in the strip," he said in a statement.

Shortly before the Al-Qassam Brigades offer, Israeli warplanes raided the Gaza Strip, slightly wounding one man, local witnesses and medical officials said.

Witnesses said the target of the raid was a car repair workshop east of Gaza City, owned by the powerful Doghmush clan which has links to Islamic militants.

The Israeli military, however, said its aircraft hit what a spokeswoman described as "a terrorist tunnel" intended to launch attacks under the Gaza border fence into Israel.

Also on Monday, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued a death threat against Hamas leaders.

"If Hamas decides to escalate, we will put an end to it ... We have several actions before putting ground forces in Gaza, including direct threats against Hamas leaders," Ayalon told public radio.

A rocket fired from Gaza overnight on Sunday exploded in southern Israel, causing neither casualties nor damage, several hours after another rocket exploded harmlessly in the town of Ashkelon.

After Saturday's mortar fire Israel pounded Gaza, wounding at least five Palestinians and cutting power supplies.

The mortar attacks, the fiercest since Israel carried out a 22-day offensive codenamed "Operation Cast Lead" against Gaza rocket fire in December 2008 and January 2009, wounded two Israelis and caused minor damage.

In January this year, Gaza's main militant factions confirmed a year-old truce after weeks of increased rocket fire and spiralling tensions along the border prompted a warning from Arab leaders that Gaza risked a major new Israeli invasion.

On Saturday Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni called for just that in response to the mortar barrage.

"The right way to deal with it is with force, just like Israel did during and after Operation Cast Lead," news website Ynet quoted her as telling local authority heads in the border region.

AFP contributed to this report.
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