Israel launches first airstrike on Gaza since November truce | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 03.04.2013
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Middle East

Israel launches first airstrike on Gaza since November truce

Israel has launched an airstrike on the Gaza Strip, the first since Hamas and Israel agreed to a ceasefire in November. The strike comes after a Palestinian prisoner suffering from cancer died in Israeli custody.

Palestinian security forces said that Israeli airstrikes early Wednesday hit two spots close to Gaza City and another site further north towards the frontier with Israel.

"Occupation planes bombarded an open area in northern Gaza, there were no wounded," a statement from the Hamas Interior Ministry said.

Wednesday's airstrike was the first by Israel since it agreed to an Egyptian-mediated truce with Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip, after eight days of fighting in November that killed 170 Palestinians and six Israelis.

Israel's military confirmed the attacks.

"In response to several rocket fire incidents directed at Israel, an Israeli Air Force aircraft targeted overnight two extensive terror sites in the Northern Gaza Strip," it said in a statement.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon defended the military's action.

"We will not in any way allow a routine of rocket fire steadily dripping on our civilians and soldiers," Yaalon said in a statement.

The Israeli military said that Gaza militants fired a rocket into southern Israel on Tuesday, after a Palestinian suffering from cancer in Israeli custody died. The rocket hit an open area in southern Israel, causing no damage or injuries. A Salifist group, Magles Shoura al-Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The last rocket to hit Israel was on March 21, during US President Barack Obama's visit to Israel and the West Bank. It landed in the southern town of Sderot, causing no injuries. Magles Shoura al-Mujahedeen also claimed responsibility for that rocket attack.

Outrage over prisoner death

The deceased prisoner, 63-year-old Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh from the West Bank city of Hebron, had been suffering from throat cancer. The Palestinian leadership blamed Israel for his death and expressed outrage over Israel's failure to release him early on compassionate grounds.

"The death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh shows the Israeli government's arrogance and intransigence over the prisoners," said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "We tried to get him released for treatment but the Israeli government refused to let him out, which led to his death."

The Israeli Prisons Service (IPS) said Abu Hamdiyeh had been diagnosed in February, but was being treated and the process of his release had begun.

"About a week ago, after being diagnosed as terminal, the IPS appealed to the release committee to secure his early release, a process which had been started but not yet concluded," it said in a statement.

Abu Hamdiyeh was serving a life sentence for his involvement an attempted 2002 Jerusalem cafe bombing. Palestinian and Israeli sources told the AFP news agency that he'd served over 10 years of his sentence before dying.

Protests in prisons across Israel broke out after Abu Hamdiyeh's death. Clashes also erupted in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where demonstrators have staged protests in recent weeks in support of Palestinian prisoners, many of whom are on long-term hunger strikes and held without charge.

dr/jm (APF, Reuters)