Hamas vowed revenge today after Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip killed a senior militant and wounded eight other people. The overnight Israeli raids came after a rocket fired from the strip hit a southern Israeli city. A Hamas militant was killed in an airstrike on a caravan near the Magazhi refugee camp in the centre of the Palestinian enclave, a Hamas official said. The Israeli military said the site was "a weapons-manufacturing warehouse."
In a statement today, the military wing of Hamas identified the man as Issa Al Batran, 40, and said he was a senior field commander. "These new Zionist crimes will not pass without answer," the statement said. Aircraft also fired at least four missiles at buildings used by Hamas security forces in Gaza City, wounding eight people, several of them seriously, said Muawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza emergency services. The site targeted used to house the offices of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas before his Western-backed Fatah party was ousted from Gaza by the Islamist Hamas in 2007. Warplanes also hit smuggling tunnels on the border with Egypt without causing casualties, witnesses said.
The Israeli military routinely responds after rocket attacks from Gaza, and the army said in a statement that it "holds Hamas solely responsible for terror emanating from the Gaza Strip." The airstrikes came after a rocket fired by Gaza militants yesterday slammed into the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, causing no casualties but some damage, and prompting sharp criticism from the United Nations. The 122mm Katyusha-type rocket landed next to a high-rise apartment building, damaging parked cars and shattering windows, the military said.
The United Nations condemned the attack, saying that "indiscriminate rocket fire against civilians is completely unacceptable and constitutes a terrorist attack." The port city was frequently targeted by rocket fire from Hamas-run Gaza before Israel launched its devastating three-week offensive on the territory in December 2008.
Just over 100 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired from Gaza at southern Israel so far this year, compared with a daily barrage before the war, but most have not had the range to reach Ashkelon, 10 kilometres north of Gaza.