Palestinian militants Thursday fired a mortar shell that exploded near the Erez crossing into Israel, the military said. Israel responded by firing seven tank shells at Gaza farmland, where the mortar shell was launched. No one was reported hurt.
The outcome was deadly on Wednesday, when an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a car carrying Palestinian militants, killing one and wounding 10 other people. It was the first such attack since a Palestinian suicide bombing this week.
The missile struck a white Subaru shortly after nightfall in the southern town of Rafah, said Dr. Moaiya Hassanain, a Palestinian Health Ministry official who confirmed the casualties.
He said the car was carrying three members of the Popular Resistance Committees, a small violent group that has carried out numerous attacks against Israel.
Palestinians identified the dead man as Mahmoud Arkan, a field operative in the PRC. The Israeli army confirmed that Arkan, 29, was the target of the attack, saying he was responsible for several deadly attacks on Israelis.
Militants pledge retaliation
Mohammed Abdel-Al, spokesman for the group, pledged to hit back Wednesday, before the Palestinian mortar attack began. “We are ready to retaliate, and the retaliation will be tough and painful,” he said.
The PRC is made up of renegades from other militant groups and has rejected the cease-fire negotiated by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas last February.
Abdel-Al said that in principle, the PRC is committed to the truce but reserves the right to retaliate for Israeli attacks.
Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa called the airstrike a “crime,” warning that it would hinder Palestinian efforts to maintain calm. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the Israeli attack and called for international intervention to stop the violence. “Violence just breeds more violence,” he said.
Israel has promised tough retaliation for the suicide bombing that killed five people Monday in the coastal city of Netanya. Before the missile strike, Israeli officials said killing leading Palestinian militants and renewed airstrikes in Gaza were among the options.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in September, but it has pledged a harsh response to rocket attacks from the area. There has been sporadic rocket fire out of Gaza in recent days, triggering Israeli artillery barrages.
Two elections in region
The upsurge in violence comes as Israel and the Palestinians are in the midst of separate election campaigns, with incumbents facing challenges.
Israel and the U.S. have called on Abbas to crack down on the militants, but Abbas has preferred to achieve calm through negotiations. However, after the Monday bombing, he ordered his security forces to arrest those responsible, and his police arrested a number of Islamic Jihad activists.