The Israel Defense Forces struck targets in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday afternoon, hours after a contract worker employed by Israel's Defense Ministry was shot and killed Tuesday by gunfire originating from the coastal territory.
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The Israel Air Force attacked six separate sites across the territory linked to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Palestinians said that a 3-year-old girl was killed in one of the attacks on the Al-Maghazi refugee camp, and that her mother and brother were wounded. The Associated Press said a total of 10 people were wounded in the attacks.
The IDF said in a statement that the Israel Air Force, tanks as well as infantry corps soldiers attacked two sites in the southern Strip, though ground forces did not enter the territory. The IDF said that one of the targets was a weapons building site and defined the second as a "terror infrastructure" site. The IDF also struck two additional sites in the central Gaza Strip and another "terror infrastructure" sites in the north as well.
"The IDF responded with a wave of attacks and are currently considering our next steps," a senior IDF officer said. He added that while the army wants to avoid an escalation, soldiers in the Gaza Division were on high alert "in case the situation deteriorates."
Hamas told Israel's Ch. 10 following the attacks that it was not interested in an escalation with Gaza.
The Palestinian group Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) took responsibility for the morning shooting at Kibbutz Nahal Oz that killed Defense Ministry employee Salah Abu Latif, 22. He was the first Israeli to be killed from Gaza fire since Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.
"One of our snipers hit an Israeli officer, who is in the Engineering Forces of the Israeli army, and seriously wounded him, near the borders between eastern Gaza Strip and Israel," the PRC said.
Israeli army officials said that the victim, a resident of the predominantly Bedouin town of Rahat in southern Israel, was hit by a single gunshot, leading them to believe a sniper perpetrated the attack. There was no exchange of gunfire during the incident.
The victim, a civilian who had been helping repair a part of the security fence that was damaged by the extreme winter weather last week, was airlifted to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva for treatment. He was initially listed in serious condition, but later succumbed to his wounds.
He is the second Israeli to be killed this month and the sixth since September.
In a separate incident Tuesday afternoon, IDF soldiers shot a Palestinian man who approached the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip. Soldiers said the man was hit in the lower torso and was evacuated for medical treatment by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Defense Minister: If there's no quiet in Israel, there will be no quiet in Gaza
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon rejected speculations that the terror attacks in the last few days were linked to the shooting on the border, but said that Israel was treating each of the incidents with "utter severity."
He added that the Defense Ministry holds Hamas responsible for the shooting and for the rocket attacks. "We will not let life in the south be disrupted, and we will respond aggressively and painfully to any attack on our authority and against our civilians and soldiers. I suggest Hamas not test our patience and use its authority in the territory. If there is no quiet in Israel, there will be no quiet in Gaza."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attack at Nahal Oz "an extremely grave incident" adding that woul "not ignore it. Our policy until now has been to thwart and to respond forcefully – and this is how we will act in this case as well." Netanyahu was visiting the southern town of Sderot, about a kilometer (half a mile) from the Gaza border, at the time of the shooting.
Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel proving that it is a "government of terror, not of peace" in carrying out the attacks.
"Israel gave a Christmas present to the Palestinian people by killing a 3-year-old girl," he said.
He added that he had submitted a request to the United Nations, the European Union and the international committee to halt the Israeli attacks.
The victim's employer said he has been working for him for about a year. "He was a young man, and extremely diligent," he said. He added that the Gaza border has felt calm in recent months, but that in light of Tuesday's incident, they would likely stop working along the border fence.
"We worked for there for a long time and nothing happened, and then suddenly everything started. We got used to wandering around the area freely, but after what happened I don’t think we'll go back there. It's scary."
IDF soldiers from the Gaza Division have been sweeping the border area in recent days in efforts to locate underground smuggling tunnels. Army officials surmised that the stormy weather last week could help uncover the tunnels infiltrating into Israel.
The shooting near Kibbutz Nahal Oz comes after a spate of terror-related incidents and rocket fire in recent days. A police officer helping to direct traffic outside Ramallah was stabbed in the back on Monday, while his Palestinian assailant fled the scene. Israeli security forces opened fire at the attacker, but missed.
On Sunday, what could have been a deadly bus bombing in Bat Yam was averted when an alert passenger notified the driver about a suspicious bag on the bus. The driver ordered all passengers to disembark after which a police bomb squad arrived at the site and began inspecting the suspicious object. The bomb exploded, shattering all the bus windows and charring the sides of the vehicle.
Earlier that day, a police found the remains of a Qassam rocket that had been fired around midnight Sunday near a bus stop for transporting children in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. The bus stop was only slightly damaged.