JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel has carried out its first air raid on the Gaza Strip in two months, a day after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three people in the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
No casualties were reported from the strike, which targetted a tunnel near the Karni border post, the main crossing point for goods between the Jewish state and the impoverished coastal territory.
“The intention of the tunnel was to be used in order to carry out a terror attack against Israeli civilians in the immediate future,” an army spokesman said.
The strike was the first since a November 26 ceasefire came into effect in Gaza, under which Israel withrew its troops from the territory and militants were to stop firing rockets into the Jewish state.
Following the Eilat bombing — the first suicide strike in Israel in nine months and the first-ever in the Red Sea resort — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to continue a “battle without respite against the terrorists and their commanders.”
A security source told AFP that Israel would not launch a widescale offensive in the Gaza Strip following the suicide attack.
“We intend to keep the ceasefire, but at the same time we will conduct pinpoint strikes against terror activists,” the source said.
“This doesn’t mean we are launching an operation in Gaza. We have no desire or intention to bring the ceasefire to an end, but we are keeping the right to carry out preventive operations against terrorism.”
The family of the suicide bomber received a warning to leave their home in northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian security sources said.
Israeli officials were still trying to figure out how the 21-year-old bomber managed to infiltrate Eilat, a popular holiday spot at the southernmost tip of Israel, in a strike claimed by the radical Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
The bomber blew himself up in a tiny bakery in an Eilat residential neighbourhood, killing its two co-owners and an employee, and sowing terror in the tourist resort that had previously been regarded as a safe haven.
Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said on Monday that the bomber had reached Eilat — which is abutted by Jordan and Egypt — from the Sinai.
Islamic Jihad said he had travelled through Jordan, but the claim was swiftly denied by the kingdom.
“A suicide terrorist left Gaza via Sinai, crossed the border in the Eilat area and reached the western part of Eilat by hitchhiking before blowing himself up in a bakery,” said Uri Bar Lev, southern Israeli police commander.
A security source in Egypt said the authorities in the Sinai had boosted security but denied the bomber could have crossed the 250-kilometre (150-mile) border that is notorious for drug and human trafficking.
The Eilat attack cast a shadow over tentative moves to revive the stalled Middle East peace process, just days before a meeting of key sponsors of the so-called roadmap.
The international quartet for Middle East peace is to meet in Washington on Friday, ahead of a meeting between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Olmert planned for the first half of February.
The White House “strongly condemned” the bombing and the German presidency of the European Union slammed it as “an attempt to destroy the hope for progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations.”
The bombing came amid the deadliest bout of factional fighting between the ruling Hamas party and Abbas’s Fatah movement since the Islamist movement won a general election last year, with 33 people killed since Thursday.
A ceasefire agreed on by the warring factions came into effect on Tuesday.