A Grad-type Katyusha rocket was fired at Ashkelon from the Gaza Strip on Friday, landing near a residential building in the city. In response, the Israel Air Force bombed three Hamas targets in the Strip. In one of the strikes a senior official with the Hamas military wing, Issa Batran, was killed. This followed a number of other failed attempts by Israel to hit him.
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, sent a letter of protest to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the rocket attack. The Foreign Ministry also had protests lodged with U.N. offices in Geneva and with the U.N.'s human rights commissioner.
The Grad, a type of Katyusha rocket generally more destructive than the Qassams that have been fired from Gaza, caused damage to a building and several cars, but no one was injured. Later, two mortar shells were fired at the western Negev, also without causing injury. Last night a Qassam rocket was fired at a Sha'ar Hanegev education complex, causing property damage but no personal injury.
On Friday night the air force attacked a Hamas weapons storehouse in Gaza City, a Hamas training camp at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central sector of the strip and smuggling tunnels in the Rafah border town adjoining Egypt. Palestinians reported that the Israeli attacks caused the heaviest losses since the end of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the Strip about a year and a half ago. The reports said that in addition to the death of Batran, 13 people were injured. Batran, 40, who was hit in the bombing raid on Nuseirat, lived in the nearby Al Boureij refugee camp.
He was considered a major figure in the Hamas military wing in the central sector of the Gaza Strip. His wife and five children were killed in a bombing raid on his house in January last year during the Cast Lead campaign. The Hamas military wing has vowed to avenge his death. Israeli security sources said that the attack was not planned in an attempt to kill Batran and the raid was not based on advance intelligence that Batran was in the camp at the time.
At this point it is not clear who was behind the Katyusha attack on Ashkelon. Palestinian commentators in Gaza expressed the belief that either groups identified with "World Jihad" fired the rocket or it was launched by members of the independent Popular Resistance Committees. Groups associated with "World Jihad" in the Gaza territory operate in opposition to Hamas.
Israel Defense Force sources said the air force attacks over the weekend were directed at Hamas because it is the group that controls the Gaza Strip, and it is therefore responsible for preventing rocket fire from the territory. Military officials expressed the belief that the events over the weekend would not lead to a wider conflagration on the border because it remains in Hamas' interest to maintain the current relative quiet.
In response to the rocket attack on Ashkelon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel views the incident "with very great seriousness."
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