Thai Worker Becomes First Rocket Fatality Since Cast Lead

Over a year after the dust settled from Operation Cast Lead, the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip are growing concerned about another military flare-up. Yesterday morning a Qassam rocket hit Netiv Ha'asara in the western Negev, its shrapnel taking the life of a Thai worker employed in a moshav greenhouse. The man, whose name has not been released, was apparently running to a fortified area set up next to the facility when the rocket hit.

Large numbers of security forces and Magen David Adom personnel arrived at the scene, where they found the man to have no heartbeat. Dozens of his fellow farm workers were treated for shock.

"It looks like a case of bad luck," said Shaike Shaked, the owner of a nearby greenhouse. "Our workers are very nervous, and so are we."

Ansar al-Sunna, a small Islamist group that challenges Hamas, claimed responsibility for the rocket, launched from the al-Atatra area of the northern Gaza Strip. Yesterday's was the first fatality from rocket fire since the end of Israel's military offensive last January.

Top-level United Nations, European Union and British diplomats firmly condemned the attack.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, on a brief visit to the Gaza Strip yesterday, said, "I condemn any kind of violence, we need to move forward to get the peace process moving toward a successful resolution.

"I'm extremely shocked by the rocket attack and the tragic loss of life," she said. "I said when I came to Israel that part of the reason for my trip to this region is to express my concern that we move as quickly as we can to proximity talks. I urge everyone to continue to work in that direction and to make sure these incidents do not deter us from finding a lasting peace for this region."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said through a spokesman, "All such acts of terror and violence against civilians are totally unacceptable and contrary to international law.

The British Foreign Office minister of state with responsibility for the Middle East, Ivan Lewis, said, "The U.K. condemns the rocket attack carried out by militants in Gaza. All terrorist attacks directed against Israel are unacceptable and should be condemned by all those who are committed to peace and stability in the Middle East.

"It is now more urgent than ever before that we see the resumption of meaningful negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to create a two-state solution. We are actively engaged in supporting the efforts of the U.S. to create the conditions for negotiations to begin as soon as possible."

Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said Israel would defend its citizens against attacks emanating from Gaza, regardless of the conditions laid out by the Goldstone report on last year's war. Ayalon said he does not see the recent diplomatic tension with the U.S. administration as inhibiting Israel's ability to protect its own communities.

Speaking to reporters near the impact site, Ayalon said Israel would not let the Goldstone report - which charged both Israel and Hamas with war crimes during the conflict - affect Israel's defense strategy. "With or without Goldstone, Israel will defend its citizens," he said. "Today we see how absurd the Goldstone report was."

Earlier yesterday, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai declared Hamas responsible for the rocket attack, even though it was not launched by militants linked to the movement that rules Gaza. "It doesn't matter which organization takes responsibility for launching rockets. Hamas rules in Gaza and therefore Israel sees it as responsible for any rocket fire coming from the Strip," Vilnai said.



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