Gaza militants kill one in Israeli town
Defy Hamas ban; air force responds by hitting 6 targets
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A rocket fired by Gaza militants smashed into a greenhouse in an Israeli border village yesterday, killing a Thai worker in the first such death since Israel’s massive offensive against Hamas-ruled Gaza more than a year ago.
The launch defied a longstanding ban by Hamas on such attacks and highlighted the growing challenge to the Islamic militant group from more radical rivals, including Al Qaeda-inspired firebrands.
The Israeli air force responded this morning by striking six targets in southern Gaza. The military identified the targets as three weapons-smuggling tunnels, two other tunnels that militants were digging to infiltrate into Israel, and a weapons workshop. No injuries were reported.
The rocket attack and the Israeli retaliation raised the specter of further conflagration at a time of renewed international focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel has drawn tough US criticism in recent days for plans to build hundreds more homes for Jews in disputed East Jerusalem.
Major Mideast mediators — among them US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Catherine Ashton, European foreign policy chief; and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — were to meet today in Moscow to seek a way forward after the row over Israel’s building plan derailed plans to start indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Ashton visited Gaza yesterday, the first senior diplomat to set foot in the blockaded territory in more than a year. Half an hour after her convoy of white sport utility vehicles entered Gaza through a heavily fortified Israeli crossing, the rocket was fired into an Israeli communal farm on the Gaza border.
It slammed into a greenhouse, scattering tomato plants in all directions. The dead man was identified as a foreign worker in his 30s from Thailand.
Thousands of foreign laborers in Israel have taken on menial jobs that used to be filled by Gaza residents until a decade ago, when unrest prompted Israel to restrict Palestinian movement.
“Israel will not allow terrorism and Palestinian terrorists to continue their attacks and to kill Israelis,’’ Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said during a tour of the attack site.
Ayalon said Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel over the past eight years, arguing that yesterday’s attack was proof Israel had good reason to launch its war on Gaza in December 2008.
Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the three-week ground and air offensive, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis died.
Israel has rejected allegations by UN investigators and human rights groups that both sides committed war crimes. Ayalon said the rocket attack showed how “absurd’’ the criticism against Israel was.
Ashton said she was “extremely shocked’’ by the rocket attack, and Ban, who is due in Gaza over the weekend, said acts of “terror and violence against civilians are totally unacceptable.’’
Israel held Hamas responsible for yesterday’s attack, even though Hamas opponents claimed responsibility.
One claim came from Ansar al-Sunna, one of several Al Qaeda-inspired groups that have sprung up in Gaza in recent years, espousing global holy war.
These groups, known as Jihadi Salafis, consider Hamas too pragmatic but are not believed to have actual links to Al Qaeda and have limited firepower.