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Gaza raids draw Abbas call for Israel to halt 'escalation'

March 13, 2014 11:57 A.M. (Updated: March 14, 2014 5:09 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Israel pounded nearly 30 targets in Gaza overnight after militants fired scores of rockets into the south, prompting President Mahmoud Abbas to demand Thursday that it halt its "escalation."

Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel on Thursday at around 10:45 a.m., with no reports of injuries or damage, Israel's army said.

Earlier, an Israeli military spokeswoman told AFP that militants had fired five rockets but only one struck Israeli territory, causing no harm or damage.

By Wednesday evening, Islamic Jihad claimed it had fired at least 90 rockets at Israel in response to an air strike on Tuesday that killed three of its militants in southern Gaza, which took place after they had fired a mortar at Israeli troops in the area.

The military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the National Resistance Brigades, claimed to have fired 30 homemade missiles and a number of mortar shells at southern Israel.

The PFLP's military wing, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, and two offshoots of Fatah's al-Aqsa Brigades also fired missiles at Israel on Wednesday, a statement from the DFLP said.

Overnight, Israeli warplanes carried out raids on 29 targets in Gaza, hitting bases used by militants from Gaza's ruling Hamas movement and from Islamic Jihad's armed wing, the al-Quds Brigade.

The strikes, which began at around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, prompted a sharp rebuke from Abbas who demanded Israel "put an end to its military escalation in the besieged Gaza Strip," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said Thursday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back during a tour with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"As the Teva (pharmaceutical) factory in Ashdod is manufacturing medications to be sent to Gaza, over there they are firing rockets at innocent Israelis," he told the British leader.

"How is it possible that he doesn't condemn the firing of rockets at innocent civilians? But he did condemn Israel for responding and firing at three terrorists who fired a mortar shell at them," he said, referring to Tuesday's border incident.

Cameron, who was to meet Abbas in Bethlehem later on Thursday, said: "I join you in condemning unreservedly the rocket attacks from Gaza."

No major operation

Earlier, Netanyahu warned that Israel would act "with great force" against those seeking to attack it.

"If there won't be quiet in the south, there will be noise in Gaza," he remarked dryly after a conference call with his defense chiefs in which he instructed them to do whatever necessary to restore calm.

He was to convene a special session of his security cabinet in Tel Aviv later on Thursday, army radio said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday that Israel would have no choice but to reoccupy Gaza, from which it withdrew all troops and settlers in summer 2005.

But experts said Israel was not seeking a major confrontation in the territory.

"Israel has no intention of entering a major operation now," said Yaakov Amidror, who served as national security adviser until November.

"But if there’s a continued response from the other side, the IDF will have to reconsider," he told army radio, adding that re-entering Gaza was "an option" but not one that Israel would rush into.

"It depends on the other side’s decisions. Hamas is not joining in at this stage and that’s a good thing."

Washington denounced the rocket fire as "reprehensible" and called for an immediate halt to such "terrorist attacks."

The flare-up came as British Prime Minister David Cameron was in Israel on his first visit since taking office in 2010.

The cross border attacks mark the largest escalation in violence since Israel's war on the Gaza Strip in November 2012, which killed at least 170 Palestinians and injured hundreds.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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