Tensions soar after militants fire rockets into Israel
Palestinian militants fired at least 20 rockets at Israel Sunday, prompting the military to threaten further retaliation in Gaza. The incident is the latest escalation in three days of cross-border violence that has heightened tensions in the region.
AFP- More than 20 rockets from Gaza hit Israel on Sunday and the air force hit targets across the Palestinian territory, as the Jewish state tried to head off a diplomatic crisis with Egypt.
Violence in and around Gaza entered its fourth day, with 22 rockets hitting southern Israel a day after a Grad rocket killed an Israeli man and injured 18 in the southern desert city of Beersheva, which is home to 194,000 people.
The Israeli air force carried out four raids on Sunday after a quiet night with no air strikes, Palestinian security sources said.
The first hit Beit Lahiya, seriously wounding a 12-year-old boy, while a second struck a Hamas security training ground north of Gaza City, injuring seven people, an emergency services spokesman said.
Two more raids in central and southern Gaza did not cause any casualties or damage in what were the first strikes since Saturday afternoon.
Tensions have soared since Thursday when militants staged a series of bloody shooting attacks in the Negev desert, killing eight Israelis and prompting a wave of bloody tit-for-tat exchanges with militants in Gaza whom Israel said were behind the attack.
It also sparked a diplomatic crisis with Egypt after Cairo said five policemen were killed by Israeli fire as soldiers pursued gunmen involved in the Negev ambushes.
Israeli officials were on Sunday pressing efforts to resolve the crisis a day after Defence Minister Ehud Barak expressed "regret" over the incident in a move dismissed by Cairo as insufficient.
During a visit to the families of the soldier and the police officer who were killed on Thursday, Israel's President Shimon Peres sent condolences to the families of the Egyptian policemen.
"I regret that Egyptian soldiers fell and am certain that no Israeli would want to see Egyptian soldiers killed," he said. "I convey my condolences to the Egyptian people and the soldiers' families."
The latest round of violence has so far killed 15 Palestinians, including seven Popular Resistance Committees militants and two from Islamic Jihad's armed wing, and injured 48, half of them women and children, Gaza medics said.
Over the same period, militants have fired more than 100 rockets and mortars at Israeli towns and cities in the south, killing one and injuring dozens more, one critically, medics in Israel said.
On Saturday night, rockets ploughed into Beersheva, killing one and injuring 18, but so far, there has been no largescale Israeli response, with press reports speculating Israel was looking to contain the situation.
"No-one wants an Operation Cast Lead 2," a senior diplomatic official told Haaretz, referring to Israel's devastating 22-day operation in Gaza over New Year 2009 which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 11 Israelis.
That operation, launched to stamp out rocket fire on southern Israel, ended in January 2009 with a truce which has largely held.
This time round, most of the rockets have been fired by the PRC, although four were claimed by Ezzedine al-Qassam, the armed wing of Hamas, in what was the first time they had fired on Israel since a truce agreement of April 10.
Egyptian officials were on Sunday locked in talks with several of Gaza's militant factions in a bid to shore up the fragile agreement, a senior Islamic Jihad leader told AFP from Cairo.
Although Gaza's Hamas leaders were not there in person, a senior official from the Islamist movement confirmed they were in touch with the Egyptians by phone.
Elsewhere in Cairo, the Arab League urged the international community and the UN Security Council to pressure Israel to immediately end its "brutal assault" after an emergency session requested by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
But a senior Israeli official criticised the statement, questioning why the Arab League had not issued a similar statement condemning Thursday's bloody attacks.
"The Arab League, which in principle advocates peace and opposes terrorism, unfortunately, has refused to condemn a deadly terrorist attack against innocent Israeli civilians coming from the territory of a member of the League," he told AFP speaking on condition of anonymity.
In Ramallah, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina demanded the world "intervene immediately to stop the massacre" in Gaza and also condemned Israel's mass arrest of Hamas members, with Palestinian police telling AFP that 120 had been detained in the southern West Bank early on Sunday.
Jordan also weighed in, condemning Israel for its "military escalation" as well as for the shooting of the Egyptian policemen, urging a halt to its Gaza raids in order to avoid regional instability.