x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Israeli warplanes strike in southern Gaza

Two pre-dawn raids on smuggling tunnels are in retaliation for rockets fired into Israel by Palestinian militants.

GAZA // Israeli warplanes launched two pre-dawn raids on tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip on today after Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel. The Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza linked the flare-up of violence to Arab foreign ministers's support for the principle of direct talks with Israel, saying Palestinians were "paying the price for (their) great error." A spokesman for the Israeli military confirmed the strikes targeted two tunnels used to smuggle arms into Gaza.

Palestinian medics said one person had been injured in the overnight strike on the tunnels. Late yesterday, Gaza militants fired a second rocket on Israel in two days, with the makeshift projectile exploding near Sderot, causing damage to a university building but caused no casualties. Benjamin Ben Eliezer, an Israeli cabinet minister, told army radio that the army was "not going to sit there with its arms crossed in the face of these attacks," but that its response would be measured.

"We do not want to set off an escalation because that is exactly what Hamas wants, which is why our response is hard but limited," he said. Hamas meanwhile condemned the Israeli aggression and reiterated its opposition to the relaunch of direct peace talks between the Western-backed Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Israel. Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo last week had lent their support to the principle of talks while leaving their timing up to Mr Abbas, as international pressure mounted on the Palestinians to return to face-to-face talks.

"Our people in Gaza are paying the price for the great error and political mistake committed by the Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee against the Palestinian people," the Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said. He also criticised a letter from Barack Obama, the US president, warning that Mr Abbas's failure to return to direct talks could harm US-Palestinian relations. Palestinian officials had revealed the contents of the letter yesterday.

"The letter from Obama to Mahmud Abbas revealed the falsehood of Obama's policies and disappointed the Palestinian people. It deliberately harms the interests of our people in favour of those of the Zionist enemy and America." Hamas, which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, is pledged to Israel's destruction and has adamantly opposed peace talks since they began in the early 1990s.

Israel routinely launches air strikes after rocket attacks from Gaza. The strikes rarely kill anyone, but on Friday a raid killed a senior Hamas military commander. That strike came after a rare military-grade rocket fired from Gaza slammed into the southern Israeli port city of Ashkelon, damaging parked cars and shattering the windows of an apartment block but without wounding anyone. Hamas vowed revenge for Friday's raids that also wounded another eight people.