Calgary Herald

Israeli troops moved to Gaza border

Tensions rise with response to rocket fire


JERUSALEM — The Israeli military rushed additional forces to its southern border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday, vowing to halt a growing wave of rocket fire from the Palestinia­n territory, while new clashes erupted in East Jerusalem in response to the death of an Arab boy who Palestinia­ns say was killed by Israeli extremists.

Israel said the show of force on the Gaza border was a defence measure. But persistent rocket fire raised the prospects of a tough Israeli response, with the military saying more than 40 rockets or mortar shells were fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza on Thursday.

Tensions have been high since three Israeli teenagers were abducted in the West Bank on June 12, sparking a massive manhunt that ended with the discovery of their bodies early this week. Israel has blamed Hamas for the abductions and launched a crackdown on the Islamic militant group in the West Bank, drawing rocket attacks out of Gaza and Israeli air strikes in a near-daily cycle of retaliatio­n.

The situation deteriorat­ed further on Wednesday after the burned body of a Palestinia­n youth, whose identity was confirmed Thursday as Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was found in a forest after he was seized near his home in East Jerusalem. The Palestinia­ns accused Israeli extremists of killing the teen in a revenge attack over the deaths of the Israeli youths.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried Thursday to calm the situation, condemning Abu Khdeir’s killing and vowing to find the attackers.

“We don’t know yet the motives or the identities of the perpetrato­rs, but we will. We will bring to justice the criminals responsibl­e for this despicable crime whoever they may be,” Netanyahu said in a speech celebratin­g U.S. Independen­ce Day at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. “Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantis­m, they have no place in our democracy.”

Following an especially intense barrage of rocket fire, including two projectile­s that hit homes in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, Israel sent tanks, artillery and ground forces to the border area early Thursday, defence officials said.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, called the move “defensive” and said he hoped the rocket fire would halt.

“Everything we are doing is to de-escalate the situation but on the other hand be prepared for actions that can develop if they do not deescalate,” Lerner said.

Israel has launched two large-scale operations in Gaza in recent years in response to rocket fire on its south, most recently in 2012. The fighting ended in a ceasefire.

The Israeli military said 34 of the rockets or mortar shells fired Thursday exploded inside Israel while the rest blew up prematurel­y inside Gaza or were shot down.

Four rockets were fired out of Gaza just before nightfall, with one striking Sderot and the others landing in open areas, the army said.

 ?? Mahmoud Illean/The Associated Press ?? An Israeli border police officer aims his weapon during clashes with Palestinia­ns in Jerusalem.
Mahmoud Illean/The Associated Press An Israeli border police officer aims his weapon during clashes with Palestinia­ns in Jerusalem.

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