Israel boosted border forces by Gaza and launched air strikes against Hamas targets Thursday in response to persistent Palestinian rocket attacks, as tensions reached explosive levels after the murders of teenagers on both sides of the border.
Israel also faced a second day of violent Palestinian protests in Jerusalem after the discovery of the body of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy on Wednesday in a forest near the city.
Israeli police are investigating the possibility that he was the victim of a revenge killing over the deaths of three Jewish teenagers, whose abduction on June 12 Israel has blamed on Islamist Hamas militants in the occupied West Bank.
The military said Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had fired 20 projectiles into Israel on Thursday and that rockets struck two homes in the southern town of Sderot, causing no casualties.
Israel launched air strikes against at least three Hamas training facilities in Gaza, residents said, adding that 15 people had been injured.
Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said troops were taking up “defence positions” in Israeli communities that have been struck by the rockets from Gaza. He did not comment on the scale of the deployment.
It is the first time since the border began to heat up in mid-June - in tandem with an Israeli military sweep and search for the three abducted Israeli youths in the West Bank - that Israel has announced troop movements near the Gaza Strip.
“We are moving and we have moved forces,” Lerner said in a conference call with foreign journalists. “Everything we are doing is to de-escalate the situation but on the other hand to be prepared if they don’t de-escalate.”
Israel has “no interest in deepening the conflict with Gaza - the absolute opposite is true”, he added.
Abu Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades, accused Israel of breaching a ceasefire brokered after a 2012 eight-day cross-border war, and said the group would respond according to developments on the ground.
“Our people know well how to exact a heavy price from the enemy,” Ubaida said at a news conference in Gaza.
The Palestinian youth, Mohammed Abu Khudair, was last seen alive being bundled into a van on Wednesday near his home in the Arab neighbourhood of Shuafat in Jerusalem, a day after the burials of the Jewish teenagers, who were abducted on June 12.
The family’s mourning is on hold while they wait for authorities to finish the autopsy and return the boy’s body.
“It is sad for the whole family to know that his body is with the Israelis because we want to lay him to rest as quickly as possible,” Abu Khudair’s father said at a press conference.
FRANCE 24’s Jerusalem correspondent Irris Makler said that Abu Khudair’s family is extremely frustrated with the Israeli authorities.
“They say that the police didn’t investigate quickly enough,” Makler said. “Mohammed’s father said that (his son’s) phone was still operating for half an hour after he reported the disappearance to the police. He is also disgruntled because he himself was held by police for eight hours.”
The funeral has also become a source of tension between the mourning family and the authorities.
“The family said that they had originally wanted the funeral to be held on the Temple Mount. Israeli authorities say the situation is too volatile for that and that they may not even allow Muslim worshippers back onto the Temple Mount tomorrow on the first Friday of Ramadan,” Makler said.
Makler described the mood as both “sombre and angry” and she reported the continuation of rioting in Shuafat, Abu Kudair’s neighbourhood in Jerusalem, throughout Thursday evening.
Police clashed with a few dozen stone-throwing Palestinians but the violence was on a much smaller scale than on Wednesday. Israeli authorities worry, however, that the burial, due to take place on Friday, could trigger further confrontation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the police investigation into the murder is ongoing.
“We don't yet know the motives or the identities of the perpetrators, but will bring to justice the criminals responsible for this despicable crime, whoever they may be,” he said. “Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism - they have no place in our democracy.”
One of Abu Khudair’s neighbours, who had positive memories of the boy, told FRANCE 24 that he had “no words” for the tragedy.
“I used to see him every day, I liked this guy,” he said. “He's very good in school. It’s very bad.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who accused Jewish settlers of killing the teenager, spoke by telephone with the youth’s father on Thursday.
“Mohammed is one of the martyrs of this great people,” Abbas said, according to the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA.
Netanyahu has called the killing a “loathsome murder” and has urged all sides not to take the law into their own hands.
The killing of Abu Khudair also drew international condemnation and the United States urged Abbas’s Palestinian Authority to “take all necessary steps to prevent an atmosphere of revenge and retribution”.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay condemned both Israelis and Palestinians on Thursday for the latest flare-up of violence across the Gaza border and also Abu Khudair’s killing.
“From a human rights point of view, I utterly condemn these rocket attacks and more especially I condemn Israel’s excessive acts of retaliation,” Pillay told journalists in Vienna.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-07-03