GAZA (Reuters) - An Israeli air strike killed a Hamas commander in the southern Gaza Strip and two of his bodyguards in their vehicle on Saturday, Palestinian medics said.
Israel had no immediate comment on the attack, which raised to 17 the number of Palestinians killed in retaliatory strikes since a rocket fired from the Hamas-ruled territory struck an Israeli school bus on Thursday seriously wounding a teenager.
In all 35 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since the start on March 20 of the latest round of bloodletting, which has included dozens of rockets and mortar bombs fired by Palestinian militants at the Jewish state.
An Israeli missile was fired before dawn on Saturday targeting a vehicle whose passengers included a Hamas commander for the Rafah area, near the border with Egypt, and two of his bodyguards, medical officials said. All three were killed instantly.
Violence has escalated dramatically since Gaza militants fired an anti-tank rocket at a yellow school bus in southern Israel on Thursday, seriously wounding a 16-year-old Israeli and wounding an adult. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
Israel has said it wants to teach Hamas a lesson for that attack which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday amounted to “crossing a line” adding that “whoever tries to attack and murder children puts his life on the line.”
Israeli air strikes killed nine Palestinian militants and civilians on Friday, including an 11-year-old boy and an adult found dismembered by a cemetery in a densely populated town east of Gaza City.
An Israeli military spokesman said that strike had targeted Palestinians firing rockets at Israel, and that more than 50 rockets were shot at Israel on Friday. Israeli media said a house was damaged and one soldier was slightly injured by these rockets and mortar attacks.
Several of the rockets fired from Gaza on Friday were intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system deployed earlier in the week for the first time.
Among those killed in Gaza on Friday were militants, and an elderly Palestinian and two women killed when their house in Khan Younis was hit. Three other women were wounded, according to hospital sources.
The Israeli military said “uninvolved civilians have apparently been injured” in one strike on Friday.
“The IDF regrets that the Hamas terrorist organization chooses to operate from within its civilian population, using it as a ‘human shield’,” the statement said.
Two years of low-level skirmishing on the border escalated suddenly last month when Hamas, which rules Gaza, fired a barrage of rockets at Israel. Hamas had largely withheld fire at Israel since a Gaza war of late 2008 in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; editing by Philippa Fletcher