GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israeli aircraft struck on Wednesday against Gaza militants who bombarded Israeli border communities with rocket fire, vowing to keep up a military and economic siege on the territory until its Islamic Hamas rulers halt the violence.
A day earlier, Hamas took responsibility for a suicide attack Monday in the southern Israeli town of Dimona. The Islamic group’s first suicide attack in Israel in three years underscored Hamas’ ability to hamper U.S.-backed efforts by moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to reach a peace deal with Israel by the end of the year.
Israel insists on an end to violence before it implements any peace agreement, but Abbas has had no control over the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized control there from his forces in June. The fact that Monday’s bombers came from the West Bank, not Gaza, gave greater weight to Israel’s demand that Abbas take stronger action against militants in the West Bank, too.
Early Wednesday, Israeli aircraft fired at militants who had launched rockets moments earlier, the military said. Hamas said four of its men were moderately injured. Gaza militants said Israel carried out several airstrikes overnight, but the military confirmed only one. Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Israeli border communities Tuesday and early Wednesday, moderately wounding a 14-year-old girl and knocking out power in parts of the rocket-scarred town of Sderot.
The salvo followed an Israeli airstrike Tuesday that killed six Hamas policemen in southern Gaza. Israel said the strike was retaliation for a rocket attack on Sderot earlier in the day that damaged two factories.
On Wednesday, Israel indicated it would not let up its operations against Hamas. “We need to understand there is a war in the south,” Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon told Israel Radio. “The war against Hamas has to be fought on all fronts.” Israel will continue to use the “economic weapon” against the Gaza Strip, and reduce supplies of fuel, electricity and some food to the territory in an attempt to persuade Hamas to stop the rockets, Ramon said.
Israel cut off virtually all shipments into Gaza three weeks ago after Hamas barraged Israel with rockets following an Israeli operation that killed 19 Gazans, most of them militants.The blockade tightened the economic noose on Gaza, whose southern border had been sealed by Egypt after the Hamas takeover.
On Jan. 23, Hamas militants tore down sections of Gaza’s border with Egypt, enabling hundreds of thousands of Gazans to break out and buy supplies in an Egyptian border town. But after 12 days of anarchy, Egyptian forces sealed the breaks on Sunday.
The showdown between Hamas leaders determined to cling to power and an international community, led by Israel and Egypt, seeking to isolate them has created an increasingly volatile situation.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, relatives of Shadi Zghayer and Mohammed al-Herbawi said they learned from watching Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV that the two were identified as the Dimona bombers. The two Hamas members in their 20s left home early Monday, without saying where they were going, relatives said.
A farewell video of the two bearded bombers that Hamas released Wednesday showed them holding guns and standing in front of Hamas flags. “I, the living martyr Mohammed Karim Mohammed Hijazi al-Herbawi … sacrifice myself for the sake of God, for the sake of those who are besieged in Gaza, and in response to the crimes of the Zionist occupation,” said the militant, who was wearing a green Hamas headband.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said he expected the Dimona bombing to strengthen the resolve of the international community to shun Hamas. “I hope that this public admission by Hamas of direct involvement in the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians will serve as a wake-up call to those in the international community who’ve had illusions as to the true nature of Hamas,” Regev said Tuesday.