IAF bombs Gaza weapons manufacturing site after rocket strikes Negev
No injuries or damage in attacks; IAF hits Rafah weapons facility in reponse to first rocket since cease-fire.
The Israel Air Force on late Wednesday night struck a weapons manufacturing facility in the area of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, hours after after a Qassam rocket fired by Gaza militants hit the Eshkol region in the western Negev.
The Israel Defense Forces said a hit was identified.
The rocket Wednesday the first to hit Israel since a shaky cease-fire ended Israel's three-week offensive in the coastal enclave.
There were no reports of injuries or damage in the rocket strike.
Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Yalin said following the rocket strike that "we expect Israel's government not to be dragged into a policy of restraint, and we expect a forceful response to preserve the security of the residents of the Gaza envelope."
Earlier Wednesday, the Palestinians claimed that they had fired a Qassam rocket at Israel in response to an Israel Air Force bombing of tunnels in the Philadelphi corridor near Gaza's border with Egypt. Israeli military officials said that no rocket landing site had been located following the Palestinian announcement.
The IAF airstrike followed a bomb blast Tuesday along the Israel-Gaza border, in which an Israel Defense Forces soldier was killed and three others were wounded.
Rafah residents began to flee their homes in panic as the Israeli aircraft struck three times, Hamas officials said. There was no initial word of any casualties.
An IDF spokesman said the air strike came in response to a remote-control bomb attack at the Gaza Strip security fence Tuesday, which killed an Israel Defense Forces tracker and wounded three other soldiers, one seriously.
The IDF spokesperson said Wednesday that the blame for the IAF strike lays solely at the feet of Hamas in that "as the sole authority in the Gaza Strip, Hamas bears full responsibility of all terror originating from within its area of control. The IDF will respond to any terror attacks in accordance with decisions made by the Israeli government."
The border blast was the Palestinians' first deadly attack since the cease-fire ended Operation Cast Lead, and came the day before the arrival of George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy to the Middle East.
Earlier on Tuesday, IAF aircraft fired a missile at a militant on a motorbike in the Khan Yunis area of Gaza. The Shin Bet security service, which helped coordinate the missile strike, said the militant, Hussein Abu-Shamaya, was involved in the bomb attack. The bomb was planted by a Hamas breakaway group identified with the Al-Qaida-affiliated Global Jihad, the Shin Bet said.
In addition, a Palestinian man, apparently a farmer, was killed in exchanges of fire between IDF troops and Palestinians in Gaza after the bomb was detonated, according to Palestinian reports. The incident took place while IDF tanks and soldiers, assisted by helicopters, were patrolling Gaza after the attack.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned of a "further response" to the attack.
"What the IDF did today was not a response but a preliminary action," he said at a meeting of ministry directors general. "A further response to this serious incident will be forthcoming."
The security cabinet is to meet Wednesday to discuss security projects, but the situation in Gaza might also be discussed.
Olmert, noting that he had termed the cease-fire "fragile," also said: "We don't even call it a cease-fire but a holding of fire in the face of Hamas infractions, so that we can retain the IDF's freedom of action."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to strike Hamas targets in response to the death of the tracker.
"We do not intend to gloss over incidents like these," Barak said. "We will not let Hamas and its outgrowths continue their hostile acts of terror. Anyone who hits us will have to absorb a serious blow in the future, too."
Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said Tuesday Israel was not negotiating with Hamas over a cease-fire or second lull. "The Egyptians are speaking to Hamas to attain things that are important for them, but we are not obligated to anything. We have not signed understandings or an agreement with Hamas," a source in Olmert's bureau said.
Israel and Egypt are apparently formulating an understanding on the passage of merchandise from Israel to the Gaza Strip, and at the same time some increased freedom of movement in the opening of the Rafah crossing from the Strip to Egypt.
The Kerem Shalom and Karni crossings on the Gaza border were closed after the attack. Approximately 185 trucks carrying aid and equipment were to have crossed into Gaza yesterday.
The bomb near the Gaza border detonated around 8 A.M., as an IDF patrol was passing near the Kissufim crossing, north of Kibbutz Kissufim. The tracker was killed and an officer was seriously hurt. One of his legs was amputated and the other one is severely damaged. Two other soldiers were classified as lightly hurt and will be released in a few days. Soroka Medical Center said they had extensive shrapnel wounds.
The name of the tracker, a Bedouin, was not released, at the request of his family.
A preliminary investigation revealed that the soldiers were patrolling an area that had not been patrolled for several weeks due to the fighting in the Strip. The regional brigade commander was apparently not apprised of the patrol, which was approved by the battalion commander. IDF sources said the Palestinians who planted the bomb did so Monday night, under cover of heavy fog.
The closure of the Gaza crossings is only the first stage of Israel's response to the attack, Amos Gilad, who heads the Defense Ministry's political bureau, said yesterday. "The equation in the Strip has changed," he said during a lecture at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
Yuval Azoulay, Avi Issacharoff and Barak Ravid contributed to this report.
Like us on Facebook and get articles directly in your news feed