Is­rael hits Gaza and closes cross­ings af­ter rocket attack

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY ADEL ZAANOUN

Is­raeli war­planes struck Gaza early Sun­day for the sec­ond time in three days af­ter cross-bor­der rocket fire by an Is­lamic ex­trem­ist group which is locked in a power strug­gle with Ha­mas.

It was the third time Is­rael had staged re­tal­ia­tory air strikes on the war torn Gaza Strip in the past fort­night af­ter three in­stances of rocket fire, all of which were claimed by Salafist ex­trem­ists loosely al­lied with the Is­lamic State group.

Dur­ing the raids, the air force hit “ter­ror­ist in­fra­struc­ture” in north­ern Gaza, the mil­i­tary said. The gov­ern­ment also or­dered the clo­sure un­til fur­ther no­tice of the Erez cross­ing for peo­ple and the Kerem Shalom cross­ing for goods.

Is­rael said it held Ha­mas re­spon­si­ble for all at­tacks em­a­nat­ing from the Pales­tinian en­clave, where it is the de facto power, with Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu warn­ing that no­body would pre­vent Is­rael from de­fend­ing it­self.

“I have not heard any­one in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity condemn this fir­ing; nei­ther has U.N. said a word,” he told min­is­ters at the start of the weekly cabi­net meet­ing.

“It will be in­ter­est­ing if this si­lence con­tin­ues when we use our full strength to up­hold our right to de­fend our­selves. Let it be clear: The spread­ing hypocrisy in the world will not tie our hands and pre­vent us from pro­tect­ing Is­rael’s cit­i­zens.”

Pales­tinian se­cu­rity sources and wit­nesses said the raids tar­geted a train­ing site be­long­ing to Ha­mas’ armed wing, the Ezze­dine al-Qas­sam Brigades, in the north­ern Beit Lahiya area.

The rocket fire on Satur­day evening struck open ground near the south­ern port of Ashkelon, caus­ing no ca­su­al­ties. The same area was tar­geted by three rock­ets on Wed­nes­day, which also prompted re­tal­ia­tory air strikes.

Af­ter that attack, the mil­i­tary de­ployed bat­ter­ies of its Iron Dome air de­fence sys­tem around Ashkelon as a pre­cau­tion, Is­raeli me­dia re­ported on Fri­day.

Since the end of a deadly 50-day war be­tween Is­rael and Gaza mil­i­tants last sum­mer, there have been at least seven in­stances of rocket fire on south­ern Is­rael.

Four of them have taken place in the past six weeks, fu­elling fears of a fresh con­fronta­tion in a ter­ri­tory which has lived through three wars in the past six years.

In­ter­nal Power Strug­gle

Since last sum­mer, there have been grow­ing signs of in­ter­nal un­rest in the ter­ri­tory, with Ha­mas en­gaged in a power strug­gle with smaller ex­trem­ist groups.

There have been a spate of bomb at­tacks tar­get­ing public build­ings and of­fi­cials as well as in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions. Although few have been claimed, they are be­lieved to be the work of rad­i­cal Salafists un­afraid to chal­lenge Ha­mas.

The last three at­tacks on Is­rael were claimed by a rel­a­tively new Salafist group called the Sup­port­ers of the Is­lamic State in Jerusalem.

It first emerged in July 2014, dur­ing the war with Is­rael, when it claimed rocket fire on the Jewish state.

There is very lit­tle of­fi­cial in­for­ma­tion on the size of the group but Pales­tinian sources be­lieve it has dozens of mem­bers and hun­dreds more sup­port­ers.

Some of its lead­ers for­merly be­longed to Ha­mas’ Qas­sam Brigades, while oth­ers used to be part of Is­lamic Ji­had’s Quds Brigades. They are un­der­stood to be in con­tact with other re­gional Salafist groups, no­tably in Syria and Egypt’s Si­nai.

Salafists are Sunni Mus­lims who pro­mote a strict life­style based on that of early “pi­ous an­ces­tors.” In Gaza, they have made no se­cret of their dis­dain for Ha­mas over its ob­ser­vance of a tacit cease-fire with Is­rael and its fail­ure to im­ple­ment Is­lamic law.

AP

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu, cen­ter, ar­rives for a weekly cabi­net meet­ing in his Jerusalem of­fice, Sun­day, June 7. Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter has slammed the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for its si­lence over re­cent rocket at­tacks from Gaza — while warn­ing that a strong reprisal is forth­com­ing.

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