JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel warned on Thursday it will retaliate against Hamas, blaming the Palestinian Islamist group for a deadly explosion of violence in the Gaza Strip that followed a month of relative calm.
Israeli authorities said they temporarily shut down the Nahal Oz fuel terminal following Wednesday’s attack, but insisted they would continue providing minimal fuel supplies to the Palestinian territory that has been under a crippling blockade for months.
“We will settle the score with Hamas which bears sole responsibility for what happened in the Gaza Strip,” Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said.
“We will choose the time and the place,” he told Israeli army radio, as residents in Gaza awoke to a tense calm.
Gaza militants on Wednesday breached the border with Israel under cover of mortar fire, killing two Israeli contractors working at the Nahal Oz terminal that provides the Palestinian territory with its fuel supplies.
On the Palestinian side, four civilians and three fighters were killed in a day of violence that followed a pre-dawn firefight which also left an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian gunman dead.
Islamic Jihad warned there will be “other operations to respond to Israeli aggressions and crimes.”
The group and two smaller militant organisations claimed they carried out the Nahal Oz raid, but the Israeli government insists Hamas is ultimately responsible because it controls Gaza.
Hamas violently ousted troops loyal to moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in June.
Israel subsequently imposed a tight embargo on the impoverished, overpopulated sliver of land on the Mediterranean coast, cutting off all but the most essential supplies.
Vilnai made it clear Israel would not completely cut off fuel deliveries to the Palestinian territory.
“We cannot afford to provoke a humanitarian crisis,” said the deputy minister. “We will supply enough fuel to ensure the vital minimum for the Palestinian population.”
Nahal Oz was closed on Thursday as senior military and government officials assessed the situation. “Its opening will depend on the security evaluation,” said Shady Yassim, spokesman for the Israeli military liaison office with Gaza.
The army, which said two militants were killed at the border, called Wednesday’s attack a “failed abduction attempt.”
Three Islamic Jihad militants were wounded in an air strike aimed at fleing gunmen and another militant as well as a civilian were killed in a second air strike in Gaza City, medics said.
Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza through Nahal Oz after the assault, and three Palestinian civilians were killed, including a 15-year-old boy, when an artillery round slammed into a nearby house, medics said.
Hamas did not claim the border attack but its armed wing said it fired three homemade rockets at the crossing after the battle, the first time it has claimed an attack on Israel since the beginning of March.
The two sides had refrained from engaging in any major attacks for several weeks following a massive Israeli military assault on Gaza launched in late February that killed 130 Palestinians and five Israelis.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon denounced the latest Palestinian raid as a “terrorist attack” but also deplored the reported death of civilians in the Israeli military operations.
Ban was “gravely concerned at the prospect of an escalation in violence,” his office said.