'Israel Will Defend Itself From Gaza Rockets, Regardless of Goldstone'

IAF strikes six targets in Gaza in response to Qassam rocket attack that killed a man Thursday.

The IAF hit six targets, including tunnels and a weapons manufacturing site in the Gaza Strip early Friday.

The strike came in response to a rocket attack on Thursday that killed a Thai foreign worker in nearby Netiv Ha'asara. It was the third rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the last 24 hours.

Later Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said Israel would defend its citizens against Gaza attacks regardless of the Goldstone report. He added that he did not see the recent tension with the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama as inhibiting the ability to protect Israeli towns.

Speaking to reporters near the impact site, Ayalon said that Israel would not let the Goldstone report, which blamed both Israel and Hamas for alleged war crimes during last years bout of fighting, to affect Israel's defense strategy, saying that "with or without Goldstone, Israel will defend its citizens. Today we see how absurd the Goldstone report was."

Asked whether recent tensions with the U.S. over East Jerusalem construction could limit Israel's ability to respond, Ayalon said that "we have never asked the permission of anyone to defend ourselves, and we will proceed in a similar fashion."

Referring to the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinains, Aylon said that he hoped "quiet and security will return, but it just can't be that while we for a year wait and extend our hands toward peace the Palestinians avoid coming to the negotiations table with excuses and preconditions."

"It just can't be that incitement is being advocated in Jerusalem and in the Temple Mount, and today we see that has manifested itself with a terrorist act," the deputy FM said.

Earlier Thursday, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai declared Hamas responsible for the rocket that hit Moshav Nativ Ha'asara, even though it was not launched by militants from the ruling movement.

Deputy Premier Silvan Shalon vowed that "the Israeli response will be appropriate. It will be strong," adding: "This is a crossing of the red line, which Israel cannot accept.

Britain, the United Nations secretary general and the European Union foreign policy chief were quick on Thursday to condemn the attack.

The EU's top diplomat, Lady Catherine Ashton, had crossed into Gaza Strip from Israel just an hour before militants in the Hamas-ruled territory launched the rocket.

At a Gaza news conference after the attack, Ashton said: "I condemn any kind of violence, we have got to find a peaceful solution to the issues and problems."

"I'm extremely shocked by the rocket attack and the tragic loss of life. 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," Ashton said.

The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy added that she urged "everyone to continue to work in that direction and to make sure these incidents cannot deter us from finding a lasting peace for this region."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also expressed his condemnation, saying in a statement: "All such acts of terror and violence against civilians are totally unacceptable and contrary to international law."

More than 100 rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel since Operation Cast Lead ended in January 2009, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israel has responsed to strikes since the war with air raids, targeting militants and suspected weapons-manufacturing facilities in the territory.

Hamas Islamists, who seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 in fighting with forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have been urging other militant groups not to mount attacks on Israel, voicing concern about retaliation.

An unknown Gaza group, Ansar al-Sunna, claimed responsibility for the attack, launched a day before the international Quartet of Middle East peace mediators was to meet in Moscow to discuss ways to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks.

The incident could have more of an impact on internal Palestinian politics than on the Middle East peace process, which Hamas has refused to join and which is at an impasse over Israeli settlement policy on land Palestinians want for a state.

Hamas Islamists, who seized the Gaza Strip in 2007, had been urging other militant groups not to mount attacks on Israel, voicing concern about retaliation.

But it has been faced with a mounting security challenge - including bombings against Hamas officials and facilities - by Gaza militant groups sharing the hardline ideology of Al-Qaida.

A known figure in the hardline Salafist movement, whose agenda of "jihad", or holy war, against the West is contrary to Hamas's nationalist goals, said Ansar al-Sunna was a newly established group.

"The Jihadist mission came in response to the Zionist assaults against the Ibrahimi and al-Aqsa mosques and the continued Zionist aggression against our people in Jerusalem," Ansar al-Sunna said in a statement.

It appeared to be referring to Israel's national heritage plan to renovate holy sites, including the West Bank town of Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs that is revered by Muslims and Jews, and the rededication this week of an 18th-century synagogue in Jerusalem, some 400 meters from al-Aqsa.

In a statement on the rocket firing, Hamas steered clear of comments that could be seen by Palestinians in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip as disapproving of a strike against its enemy, even an attack that strained an informal truce.

"The government of the Zionist enemy, which has launched a war against the Palestinian people and against holy sites and al-Aqsa mosque, bears the responsibility for all the escalation," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.