Image: Palestinian man surveys a smuggling tunnel destroyed in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip
Str  /  Reuters
A Palestinian man surveys a smuggling tunnel destroyed in an Israeli air strike along the border between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip on Friday. staff and news service reports
updated 3/18/2010 8:40:37 PM ET 2010-03-19T00:40:37

Israeli aircraft struck two targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday a day after a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave killed a Thai worker in Israel, Hamas security officials and witnesses said.

There were no reported injuries in either strike. In one, missiles struck an open area near the town of Khan Younis. Another, near Gaza City, it a metal foundry.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom had said Israel would make a strong response to what was the first deadly rocket fire from Hamas-ruled Gaza at Israel in more than a year.

Israel also sent a letter of complaint to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is due to visit Israel over the weekend, and the U.N. Security Council.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev urged Ban to call for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Gaza militants in 2006. Hamas has demanded Israel free hundreds of the thousands of militants in its jails in exchange for the soldier.

The E.U.'s top diplomat Briton Catherine Ashton had crossed into the Gaza Strip from Israel about an hour before the attack on Israel Thursday, the first to result in a fatality since the end in January 2009 of Israel's Gaza war.

It came a day before the international Quartet of Middle East peace mediators was to meet in Moscow to discuss ways to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks.

A small Islamist faction calling itself Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility for the attack. Similar hardline groups, which are inspired by al-Qaida's radical ideology and see Gaza's Hamas rulers as too moderate, have been responsible for most of the attacks since the end of the war in Gaza.

A second group, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, also later claimed responsibility.

Violence condemned
"I condemn any kind of violence," said Ashton, the most senior international official to visit Gaza in more than a year. "We have got to find a peaceful solution to the issues and problems."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban also condemned the attack.

"All such acts of terror and violence against civilians are totally unacceptable and contrary to international law," he said in a statement.

In a statement e-mailed to reporters in Gaza, the Ansar al-Sunna faction said the attack was a response to Israel's "Judaization" of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.

Israeli police and the Magen David Adom ambulance service said the rocket struck Netiv Ha'asara, an agricultural community, killing the 30-year-old Thai man.

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.

'Take risks for peace'
The attack came as The New York Times published an article by Israel's ambassador to the U.S., which said American commitment to Israeli security was a key strand of the peace process.

"To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods," Michael Oren wrote.

"Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces," he added, 'America's commitment to Israel's security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace."

Oren reasserted his government's opposition to any restrictions on building in east Jerusalem, but denied that U.S.-Israel relations were "at a historic low point" because of the dispute.

The diplomatic crisis erupted last Tuesday, when Israel announced during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden that it would build 1,600 apartments for Jews in disputed east Jerusalem, the sector of the holy city that the Palestinians claim for a future capital.

David Buimovitch  /  AFP - Getty Images
The body of a Thai worker who was killed in a rocket attack lies on the ground in the southern Israeli Netiv Haasara Kibbutz on Thursday.
But Oren wrote in the Times: "We should not ... allow peace efforts, or the America-Israel alliance, to be compromised by Israel's policy on Jerusalem. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city."

"This policy certainly applies to neighborhoods like Ramat Shlomo, which, though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city's Jewish population," he continued. "Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians."

Rockets, mortar bombs and air strikes
Palestinian militants have been carrying out sporadic rocket and mortar bomb attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip, usually without causing any casualties. The number of such strikes has dropped dramatically since the December 2008-January 2009 war that Israel launched in the Gaza Strip with the declared aim of ending such attacks.

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

Meanwhile, Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank lobbed rocks at Israeli security forces Friday, set garbage bins and tires ablaze and torched an Israeli flag in a new outbreak of violence over contested Jerusalem building plans and unsubstantiated rumors about threats to the city's holiest shrine.

Israeli forces responded with tear gas and stun grenades, but no serious injuries were reported.
Friday's clashes were most serious in the West Bank town of Hebron, where about 60 protesters faced off against Israeli soldiers. Hebron has been in ferment since last month, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu designated a disputed shrine there a national heritage site.

There were also sporadic, low-level clashes at a small number of other points in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for the capital of a future state. Netanyahu objects to partitioning the city. Washington and the rest of the international community does not recognize Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 Mideast war and views the Jewish neighborhoods there as settlements like those Israel has built in the West Bank.

Since last week, violent protests have erupted several times in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem where residents are angry over both the new Jewish housing plans and rumors that Jewish extremists are plotting to take over an Old City site that is holy to Muslims and Jews.

The hilltop compound, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary, is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third-holiest shrine. The complex, known to Jews as Temple Mount, is Judaism's holiest site because the biblical Jewish temples once stood there.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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