Palestinian militants launched several rockets into southern Israel,while Israeli aircraft struck targets in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday,in the heaviest exchange of fire between the sides since they agreed to an internationally brokered ceasefire in November.
There were no casualties reported,but the violence nonetheless threatened to shatter the calm that has prevailed since and prompted Israels new Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon to warn that the Jewish state will not sit back if militants attack the south of the country. We will not allow shooting of any sort (even sporadic) toward our citizens and our forces, Yaalon,said in a statement.
Although there was no claim of responsibility for the rockets fired from Gaza early Wednesday,Yaalon held Islamic militant group Hamas responsible for all such attacks from the seaside strip.
Overnight Wednesday,Israel responded for the first time by striking a pair of empty fields in northern and eastern Gaza. On Wednesday morning,two more rockets exploded in the Israeli border town of Sderot,police said. The Israeli military said a total of five rockets had been fired.
Ihab Ghussein,Hamas spokesman,accused Israel of using the airstrikes to divert the attention from unrest in Israeli prisons. They think that through escalation on Gaza front they can hide the truth, he said,and urged Egypt,the guarantor of the ceasefire,to intervene.
Palestinian prisoners have been rioting and been on a hungerstrike since a 64-year-old prisoner died of throat cancer on Tuesday. The Palestinians have blamed Israel for the mans death,saying he was not given proper medical care. The prisoner,Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh,had been serving a life sentence for his role in a foiled attempt to bomb a busy cafe in Jerusalem in 2002.
Israels chief military spokesman,Brig Gen Yoav Mordechai,said the army was on alert for riots in the West Bank and accused the Palestinian Authority,which governs in the West Bank,of exploiting his death to resume popular protests.