THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Palestinian militants warn more bombs floating toward Israel

Say it is revenge for death of top Hamas operative

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel accused Hamas, which rules Gaza, of being behind the operation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel accused Hamas, which rules Gaza, of being behind the operation.
By Mark Lavie
Associated Press / February 3, 2010

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JERUSALEM - Palestinian militants said yesterday that they had launched a large number of floating explosives into the Mediterranean Sea to avenge the death of a top Hamas commander, a day after two bomb-laden barrels washed up on Israel’s coastline.

Israeli authorities began an intensive search for bombs, closing miles of beaches, deploying robotic bomb squads, and ordering surfers out of the wintry waters.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, blamed Hamas.

Meanwhile today, Israeli warplanes struck two smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border in response to the barrel bombs and the firing of a rocket from Gaza, the military said.

Abu Saed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, a Gaza faction with close ties to Hamas, said the attack was meant to avenge the killing last month of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a veteran Hamas operative who Israeli defense officials say was involved in smuggling rockets into Gaza.

Hamas says Israeli Mossad agents ambushed Mabhouh in his Dubai hotel room, immobilized him with an electrical shock, and strangled him.

Israel has refused to comment on the allegations.

“We confirm that there are still many of these charges in the ocean, and they haven’t exploded yet,’’ Abu Saed said, standing alongside five other gunmen in military fatigues.

In Jerusalem, Netanyahu accused Hamas, which rules Gaza, of being behind the operation, with support from Iran and Syria.

“We view with great severity the Hamas operation near the Gaza beach, and we will respond accordingly,’’ he said without elaborating.

On Monday afternoon, a barrel bomb washed up on the beach of Ashkelon, about 9 miles north of Gaza. A few hours later, one was found at Ashdod, 6 miles farther north.

Each had about 22 pounds of explosives, police said. They said bombs of that size could cripple small civilian vessels but not Israeli warships.

The barrels should not pose a threat to shipping lanes in the eastern Mediterranean because the tides would just carry them back to shore.

The second barrel blew up as a police robot was examining it, sending the tractor-like device tumbling through the air, according to witnesses. A police bomb squad defused the other one. No one was hurt.

Maritime authorities warned sailors and fishermen to be alert to possible dangers in the waters.

The military linked the barrels to two explosions at sea Friday aimed at Israeli ships.

Yesterday, Iran joined Hamas in accusing Israel of assassinating Mabhouh, calling it “yet another example of state-sponsored Israeli terrorism.’’