Israel continues strikes in Gaza in response to attack on school bus
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli aircraft and tanks pounded Gaza yesterday, killing seven Hamas militants and five civilians in a surge of fighting sparked by a Palestinian rocket attack on an Israeli school bus the day before.
Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers seemed on the brink of another round of intense violence, just a little over two years after a three-week war in which persistent rocket fire from Gaza triggered a devastating Israeli military offensive in the territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the attack on the school bus “crossed a line’’ and warned that “whoever tries to harm and murder children will pay with their life.’’
In Thursday’s attack, Gaza militants hit a yellow Israeli school bus near the border with a guided antitank missile, injuring the driver and badly wounding a 16-year-old boy. Most of the schoolchildren on the bus had gotten off shortly before the attack. Hamas, which had largely held its fire since Israel’s last major offensive, claimed responsibility.
Early today, an Israeli airstrike against a vehicle traveling near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip killed three Hamas militants, including a senior commander, the group said.
Hamas said 29-year-old Tayser Abu Snima and two of his assistants were killed in the blast.
The early-morning attack brought the two-day death toll from Israel’s retaliation to 17 Gazans — 10 militants, a Hamas policeman, and six civilians — amounting to the bloodiest tally since Israel and Hamas wrapped up their three-week-long war more than two years ago.
The dead yesterday included three civilians killed by Israeli tank fire and three militants killed in an airstrike, both near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis. Another militant was killed in an airstrike in northern Gaza.
Later, an Israeli tank shell struck a cemetery east of Gaza City, killing two civilians, including an 11-year-old boy, said Palestinian health official Adham Abu Salmiya. The military insisted the strike targeted militants.
Gaza militants fired some 30 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel yesterday, causing no injuries, the Israeli military said.
For the second day in a row, Israel’s cutting-edge Iron Dome missile defense system successfully intercepted Palestinian rockets aimed at Israeli cities, the military said. The system knocked down rockets aimed at the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Beersheba. Reinforced rooms and early warning systems have also helped keep Israeli casualties low.
Studies at some Israeli schools near Gaza were canceled yesterday because of concerns for the students’ safety.
It is unclear if Hamas was trying to provoke a new conflagration, if it was fully in control of all of its fighters, or if it believes Israel would pull back before invading Gaza again. Israel was condemned internationally after the last incursion.
Hamas said the rocket attack was in retaliation for the killing of three fighters in an airstrike earlier in the week. At around midnight Thursday, with Gaza rocked by explosions, the organization announced a cease-fire, though it later claimed responsibility for some of yesterday’s strikes. A small PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the radical Islamic Jihad group also said they fired at Israel.
The Israeli strikes continued, hitting Hamas facilities and smuggling tunnels, after Hamas announced its cease-fire. Electricity lines and transformers were damaged, according to Jamal Dardsawi, a spokesman for Gaza’s Electric Distribution Company.
Also yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bus attack and expressed concern over civilian casualties in Israel’s strikes. He called for “de-escalation and calm to prevent any further bloodshed.’’