GAZA (Reuters) - Israel said it struck targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday after Palestinian militants fired rockets at southern Israel, in what they said was a response to an Israeli air strike that killed one militant and wounded a second a day earlier.
Israel said its air raid targeted 25-year-old Mohammed Makawi whom it linked to a radical group involved in a recent Sinai border attack in which an Israeli was killed. Hospital sources in Gaza said Makawi died of his wounds.
The armed wing of Hamas, the Islamists who control the Gaza Strip, said it had joined in Monday’s rocket attack along with the smaller Islamic Jihad group.
Gaza has been under the control of Hamas since 2007. The Islamist group rejects permanent peace with Israel and the two sides fought a three-week war in December-January 2008-2009. The border is tense, with frequent clashes.
The Israeli army says over 470 rockets have been fired from Gaza this year, but it was the first time since June that Hamas had acknowledged launching rockets at Israel. A Hamas spokesman said the movement would not remain passive in the face of what it called “one-sided” Israeli violence.
The Israeli army said it had targeted “Hamas terror activity sites and terrorist squads responsible for the rocket fire”, but gave no details. Israeli forces say they will not tolerate such attacks and will hold Hamas responsible for them.
Gaza hospital officials said one Islamic Jihad militant thought to have been involved in the rocket attack had been wounded by Israeli tank fire east of the town of Rafah.
Residents of Khan Younis in southern Gaza said an Israeli tank fired at the suspected launch area, slightly wounding four children and damaging a minaret and a water tower.
Abu Ubaida, spokesman of the Hamas armed wing Izz El-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades, said the rocket firing was a message to Israel that it would not accept “a formula of a one-sided aggression by the occupation on flimsy pretexts”.
With Egyptian mediation, Hamas has made efforts in the past to clamp down on smaller militant groups that persist in mounting attacks on Israel, partly in order to avoid another devastating war. The Israeli offensive in the winter of 2009 killed more than 1,000 Palestinians.
But on Monday Abu Ubaida said Hamas had displayed a “high level of coordination” with Islamic Jihad in unleashing the latest rocket barrage.
“Should the enemy continue its aggression against the Gaza Strip the reaction by the resistance will be stronger and broader,” he said.
The homemade weapons fired from Gaza are inaccurate, but potentially lethal. An Israeli spokeswoman said some exploded harmlessly on Monday near the border with the Gaza Strip. But one kibbutz resident said children could have been killed.
“It was a very powerful barrage,” Ilan Yosef of Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak near the Gaza border told Israel radio. “The goat pen in the (children‘s) petting corner was severely hit and a vet is treating the animals still alive and dealing with those that aren‘t.”
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Alistair Lyon