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Israel launches artillery strikes after dozens of rockets from Gaza

March 12, 2014 7:21 P.M. (Updated: March 13, 2014 1:18 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel launched artillery strikes against the Gaza Strip as a barrage of rockets from the besieged coastal enclave hit southern Israel on Wednesday, with no reported injuries.

An Israeli military spokeswoman told Ma'an that Israeli forces had launched "artillery fire" at two "terror locations in the northern and southern Gaza Strip" on Wednesday afternoon, in response to a volley of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad earlier said it had fired 130 rockets into Israel, in response to an Israeli airstrike the day before that killed three Palestinian militants in the coastal enclave.

The al-Quds Brigades, the group's armed wing, claimed responsibility for the operation, which it named "Breaking the Silence."

A spokesman for the al-Quds Brigades said that the group was not breaking the truce between Israel and Hamas, but was merely "responding" to Israeli killings of seven Palestinians in the last two days, including three in Gaza on Tuesday.

"We are aware of the siege and division" between Palestinian political factions, spokesman Abu Ahmad told Ma'an, "but I don't think our silence to the attack won't ease the siege," he explained.

Three other Palestinian militant groups also claimed to have participated in the attacks on Israel, including the National Resistance Brigades, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade.

The National Resistance Brigades, the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility for launching four 107 rockets on Wednesday around 8:10 p.m.

The brigades said in a joint statement that the attacks were a response to the continuous Israeli attack on "our unarmed people."

The "Vertical Battalion" of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade also claimed responsibility, saying that they fired eight 107 rockets at Sderot and three at Nahal Oz.

'Palestinians have the right to protect themselves'

Spokesman for the Gaza Strip government Ihab al-Ghussein, meanwhile, said that Israel is "responsible for any escalation," warning of the "consequences of any escalation" and reiterating that "resistance is the right of the Palestinian people to defend itself."

Al-Ghussein said that Palestinian factions are "wise" and see the truce as a benefit for the Palestinian people, but that Israel is "violating" the truce.

Gaza Strip government spokeswoman Israa Modallal said in a statement: "As long as Israel continues to impose a blockade on the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians have the right to defend and to protect themselves."

Hamas is in control of the Gaza Strip government and maintains a fragile ceasefire with Israel, but other groups occasionally launch attacks.

Israel has repeatedly violated the ceasefire in the last year by launching attacks into the Strip and opening fire on civilians near the border, and militant groups often respond with rocket fire, which mostly falls in open areas.

Israel has also maintained a severe economic blockade on the Gaza Strip's 1.5 million residents since 2006.

The blockade has severely limited the imports and exports of the Gaza Strip and has led to frequent humanitarian crises and hardship for Gazans.

The escalation came just hours after British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived on his first official visit to the region since taking over as premier in 2010.

It was the heaviest barrage of cross-border rocket fire since a major eight-day confrontation in November 2012 between Israel and militants from Gaza's ruling Hamas movement.

An Israeli security source told AFP that militants had fired more than 50 rockets "in close succession," targeting areas all over the south.

The Israeli army put the number at "more than 30 rockets," saying eight of them had struck urban areas, and another three were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Police said the rocket fire fell in several waves along the length of Israel's border with Gaza and that one struck near a public library in the town of Sderot, while another hit near a petrol station in another area.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

We will respond 'with great force'

The attack began shortly after Netanyahu and Cameron addressed the parliament, and prompted a stern warning from the Israeli leader who pledged to act "with great force" against those seeking to harm Israel, a statement from his office said.

"We will continue to strike those who want to harm us, we'll act against them very forcefully," he was quoted as saying in a separate statement communicated by his spokesman Ofir Gendelman.

"This is the biggest attack on Israel since the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense," the military said on its Twitter feed, referring to the 2012 confrontation which claimed the lives of 177 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and six Israelis.

Speaking to Israel's private Channel 2 television, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would have no choice but to reoccupy Gaza, from which it withdrew all troops and settlers in summer 2005.

"Following an attack like this -- a barrage of more than 50 rockets -- there is no alternative to a full reoccupation of the entire Gaza Strip," he said.

A day earlier, an Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip, medics said.

The three resistance fighters were killed by the airstrike in southeast Khan Younis near the Sufa crossing.

The al-Quds Brigades said at the time that the militants were affiliated to the group.

"They were in confrontation with the occupation trying to stop the progress of Israeli military vehicles which were approaching the area," the statement said.

The Israeli army said in a statement that "terrorists affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the southern Gaza Strip fired a mortar shell at IDF forces."

"An IAF aircraft responded immediately in order to prevent further attacks on Israeli civilians and targeted the terrorist squad. Direct hits were confirmed, the army statement said.

Also Tuesday morning, an Israeli drone fell in the area of the attack.

The airstrikes came just hours after Palestinian security sources said a man died after Israeli soldiers fired at him while he was driving near the West Bank city of Tulkarem.

The Israeli army also killed two Palestinians in the West Bank on Monday.

Israeli soldiers shot and killed 18-year-old Saji Darwish near Ramallah late Monday, after he allegedly threw stones at Israeli vehicles.

Earlier, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian-Jordanian judge at the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan.

AFP contributed to this report
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