GAZA (Reuters) - Israel killed three Hamas gunmen in Gaza Strip air strikes on Tuesday which the military said targeted squads preparing to launch rockets into the Jewish state.
The air force operations followed other Palestinian attacks, including a bomb blast that wounded an Israeli army officer patrolling the Gaza border, on a day that saw the isolated, Hamas-governed enclave receive its first foreign head of state, the emir of Qatar.
Israeli leaders had vowed retaliation for the morning bombing on Gaza’s boundary fence, but Israeli television said military actions were put on hold until Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani had left.
The rich Gulf state has had low-level diplomatic ties with Israel and hosts a major U.S. naval base.
Hamas said three of its gunmen were killed and another three wounded in two air strike in northern Gaza. It did not comment on Israel’s allegation that they had prepared rocket launches. Six other rockets were fired across the border on Tuesday, the Israeli military said, though causing no damage or casualties.
The border bombing was claimed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), one of several small factions in Gaza that often operate independent of the dominant Hamas.
Israel’s policy is to hold Hamas responsible for any attacks from the territory, which the Islamist group has controlled since 2007. Though hostile to Israel, Hamas has mostly sought to avoid direct clashes as it shores up its rule in the face of more radical challengers and reaches out to potential allies abroad.
Reporting by Nudal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Michael Roddy