An explosion in Gaza today from an Israeli airstrike
Karen Brulliard and Islam Abdulkarim write for The Washington Post:
An escalation of cross-border violence continued for the second day on Saturday, as the death toll from Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip rose to 14 militants and militant factions fired dozens more rockets into southern Israel.
Two militant groups in Gaza said those killed in at least 10 airstrikes from Friday to Saturday were their fighters, among them a top commander. Witnesses and medics said the latest airstrike, at midday Saturday, killed two militants in the crowded Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis.
Militants vowed revenge after the initial strike that killed a leading commander on Friday, and they claimed responsibility for a subsequent torrent of more than 90 rockets that the Israeli military said were launched from Gaza toward southern Israel. One Israeli was seriously wounded in the rocket fire, and hundreds of thousands of residents in the area were advised to stay inside on Saturday, Israeli authorities said.
The clashes were the worst in a region where a cycle of militant rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes has become the norm. The fighting showed little sign of letting up Saturday, with the militant Popular Resistance Committees vowing to continue firing rockets and scorning a wobbly cease-fire observed by Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza.
Hamas condemned the airstrikes, which the Israeli military said targeted weapons manufacturing facilities, sites from which rockets were being launched and other “terror activity” sites. At least 16 people were wounded, some of them civilians, according to witnesses and medics at the scenes of the strikes.
Israel contends that Hamas, which it and the United States consider a terrorist group, turns a blind eye to rocket firing carried out by other militant factions based in the crowded coastal enclave.
The escalation began Friday morning, when an Israeli airstrike on a car in Gaza City killed Zuhair al-Qaissi, the commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, and his assistant. The group, in cooperation with Hamas, abducted the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006; Shalit was freed last year in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
The Israeli military says the Popular Resistance Committees carried out a raid from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula into southern Israel that killed eight Israelis last August. Al-Qaissi was orchestrating a similar attack that was to take place within days, the Israeli military said Friday, adding that it would “respond with strength and determination against any attempt to execute terrorist attacks.”
Israel is building a fence along the southern border with Egypt. It was originally intended to prevent the entrance of African migrants and asylum-seekers, but Israeli authorities say they now view it as a key measure to thwart attacks emanating from the desolate and loosely patrolled Sinai.