October 30, 2011 12:34:03 am
FARES AKRAM & ISABEL KERSHNER
An Israeli drone strike killed at least five Palestinian militants at an Islamic Jihad training site in southern Gaza on Saturday. The Israeli military said it had hit a terrorist squad that was preparing to fire long-range rockets into Israel,and that the same squad was responsible a rocket that struck late Wednesday near Ashdod in southern Israel.
Wednesdays strike interrupted weeks of relative quiet along the Israel-Gaza border.
Hamas,the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza,has made efforts to enforce a cease-fire since Augusts cross-border airstrikes and rocket attacks that claimed casualties on both sides.
Witnesses to Saturdays strike said that an Israeli drone fired two missiles at a training site situated on sandy dunes in a former Jewish settlement near the city of Rafah.
It was the first Israeli strike on Gaza since the return this month of a captured Israeli soldier,Sgt First Class Gilad Shalit,who had been held incommunicado for over five years by Hamas. Israel freed 477 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier and is set to release 550 more.
A spokesman for the armed wing of Islamic Jihad said Saturday that the dead were senior commanders of the group. They included Ahmed al-Sheikh Khalil,a leader of one of the Islamic Jihad brigades. Khalil had four brothers,activists in the movement killed in Israeli army operations.
The spokesman pledged that the militants would respond forcefully to the Israeli airstrike. Hamas also said that Israel would be responsible for the consequences of the raid.
No Palestinian group had claimed responsibility for Wednesdays rocket attack on Israel.
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