GAZA,(Reuters) – Israel launched fresh missile strikes in Gaza on Tuesday, saying it targeted buildings used by Palestinian militants as a response to rocket attacks on the Jewish state.
The flare-up of violence, one of the most serious since an Israeli pullout from Gaza last month raised international hopes for Middle East peacemaking, followed Israel”s killing of a top Islamic Jihad militant and threatened to unravel a ceasefire.
Israel mounted similar strikes overnight, the first air raids since last month when militants mounted rocket attacks. Militant groups, including Islamic Jihad, said then they would stop attacks from Gaza after Israel killed several militants.
Palestinian medics said a woman and her two daughters were wounded in one of Tuesday”s two missile strikes, which destroyed two buildings linked to Islamic Jihad and militants from President Mahmoud Abbas”s Fatah faction.
The Israeli army, which also employed artillery fire, said militants from both groups had used the buildings and that the air strikes were in response to rocket salvoes from Gaza.
The militants said they were avenging Israel”s killing of Islamic Jihad commander Loai Assadi in the West Bank on Monday.
Israel had said after the rocket salvoes, which caused no casualties, that it would respond to any attacks on its people.
The Jewish state has often targeted buildings in Gaza that it says were used by militants since the start of a Palestinian uprising in 2000 for statehood.
The Israeli army said its troops targeted Assadi because he had masterminded attacks against Israelis and was planning more.
Abbas said the killing of Assadi had undermined his efforts to maintain calm under a ceasefire militants declared in March.
He also wants to ensure violence does not disrupt legislative elections in January. The leading militant group, Hamas, has also said it wants to ensure calm for the elections in which it plans to challenge Fatah for the first time.
Israel quit Gaza on Sept. 12 after 38 years of occupation, evacuating 8,500 settlers under what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called a plan to "disengage" from conflict with Palestinians.
But Sharon has vowed that Israel will never give up large West Bank settlement blocs. Some 245,000 Jews live in the West Bank, home to 2.4 million Palestinians.