The worst violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip in nearly a year entered its second day on Saturday,as Israeli aircraft killed 15 militants,according to Palestinian health officials. Militants responded by firing nearly 100 rockets,seriously wounding an Israeli civilian.
The airstrikes and rocket attacks could drag the volatile area into broader conflict,especially if a large number of civilians are killed.
On Saturday,the low whooshing noise of militants firing rockets from border areas toward Israel was palpably heard inside Gaza City. Israeli drones hovered in the skies above. Tens of thousands of Palestinian mourners marched through the streets in funeral processions. They carried slain militants in coffins,their bodies too torn up to be wrapped in cloth,as Muslim tradition dictates. Masked militants sprayed machine gun fire above the mourners heads in angry grief. Revenge,revenge! chanted the crowds.
On Israels southern border,residents were told to stay home and refrain from holding large outdoor events on Saturday. The flare-up began Friday with a strike on militant commander Zuhair al-Qaissi,who Israel said was planning an attack from the nearby Egyptian Sinai peninsula into the Jewish state. He was the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees,a small group behind the 2006 abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit. Schalit was freed last year in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
It was the highest profile killing Israel has undertaken against militants in the coastal strip in several months.
Gaza militants then unleashed a barrage of rockets toward Israels southern border communities. One rocket seriously wounded an Israeli civilian and sent families scattering into bomb shelters.
So far,militants have fired 92 rockets. The military said its air defense systems intercepted some 25 rockets before they landed. Palestinian militants fired some 50 rockets toward Israel in the three months preceding the flare-up,a military spokesman said.
Egypt,which has helped arrange truces in the past,said Saturday it was trying to cobble together a cease-fire,but hope seemed distant.
Palestinian militants said they would press on,accusing Israel of shattering months of relative calm. (We) wont give this occupation a free truce while our leaders and heroes are being killed, said Abu Mujahid,spokesman for al-Qaissis group.
Gazas Hamas rulers condemned the Israeli strike but,pointedly,their militants did not fire rockets at Israel. However,Israels military said that Hamas,as the territorys ruler,would bear the consequences for any attacks that initiated from Gaza.