GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israeli airstrikes against targets in Gaza killed three men early Friday in a smuggling tunnel along the Gaza-Egypt border, Palestinian officials reported.
The Israeli strikes came in retaliation for a rocket and mortar barrage launched into Israel on Thursday.
The bodies of two men killed when missiles hit a tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border have reached the morgue at nearby Rafah Hospital, according to Dr. Salam Abu Salem. An AP Television News cameraman saw a third body being removed later Friday from the same tunnel.
Dozens of Palestinian smugglers have died in collapses and strikes against the tunnels, which are used to bring everything from cigarettes and chocolate to livestock and weapons into the blockaded territory. Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade to weaken Gaza’s rulers, the Islamic militants of Hamas, who violently seized power there in 2007.
Israel’s military said that in addition to the smuggling tunnels its aircraft also targeted a weapons manufacturing facility and another tunnel meant to allow militants to sneak into Israel for an attack.
In a statement, the military said Israel “will not tolerate the firing of rockets by terrorist organizations at Israel and will continue to respond against any attempt to disrupt the calm in Israel’s southern communities.”
Israel has developed an anti-rocket system, dubbed Iron Dome, which is slated to be deployed along the Gaza border later this year and could neutralize the crude rockets that have become the Gaza militants’ most effective weapon.
Egypt has also begun building an anti-tunnel barrier along its border with Gaza, potentially ending Hamas’ supply of cash and weapons.
Together, the two moves by Gaza’s neighbors could soon change the strategic equation in and around the territory.
Violence in Gaza has dropped but not ceased since Israel’s devastating offensive in the territory a year ago, aimed at halting years of rocket fire at Israeli towns and cities nearby.
On Thursday, the U.N. said Israel had agreed in principle to pay the organization around $10 million for damage caused to U.N. buildings by Israeli forces during the fighting. An Israeli official said an agreement on such a payment was close but had not been finalized.