Israeli airstrike kills 5 Gaza militants
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli aircraft on Saturday killed 5 Palestinian militants from the Islamic Jihad group in Gaza whom it says were responsible for recent rocket attacks on Israel, Israel's military said. Islamic Jihad took responsibility for firing more rockets a few hours later which injured one Israeli.
The Israeli military said it targeted the same group of militants that fired rockets that exploded near the southern Israeli city of Ashdod Wednesday night. No Israelis were injured in that attack.
A military spokesman said the militants were hit as they were preparing to launch more rockets at Israel. The military "will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians," he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with military protocols.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmia said 5 men were killed and another 11 injured in an explosion inside a militant training site in the southern part of the coastal territory.
Palestinians launched another a volley of rockets at Israel a few hours later, the military said. One person sustained shrapnel wounds in the small town of Gan Yavneh and others in the Ashdod region were treated for shock, the spokesman said.
Israel's Channel 2 television reported that one rocket hid a school, causing massive damage. No one was hurt because the school was closed for the Jewish Sabbath, Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri said.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that Israeli forces were on high alert and patrols were beefed up in southern cities.
Islamic Jihad said later that it carried out the rocket attacks.
Islamic Jihad is one of the militant groups in Gaza that frequently fires rockets into southern Israel, prompting Israeli reprisal strikes.
The group vowed revenge for the airstrike in a text message sent to reporters. "Our response shall be in the depths of the Zionist entity," it said in reference to the Israeli heartland.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Ahmed said one of its local field commanders, Ahmed Sheikh Khalil, was killed. He said Khalil was one of the group's chief bomb makers. "Today it was a great loss for us in the Islamic Jihad," he said. "The size of our retaliation will equal our loss."
The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad took responsibility for multiple suicide bombings and shooting attacks against civilians in Israel during the second Palestinian intifadah, or uprising, in the first half of the last decade.
Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, blamed each other for the flare up in violence Saturday.
"The Hamas terror organization is solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip," the Israeli military said.
Israel as a matter of policy holds Hamas liable for violence perpetrated by any of the different armed groups in the coastal territory.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum meanwhile said Israel is "fully responsible for all the results of this dangerous escalation."
In the winter of 2008, Israel launched a broad military offensive inside Gaza aimed at stopping almost daily Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli communities.
Since then, violence has continued sporadically along the border and Palestinians continue to launch mortars and rockets at Israel, but to a much lesser degree.
On Wednesday, militants fired a long-range Katyusha rocket that exploded near Ashdod in the south of the country.
Sirens also went off in the central Israeli city of Rehovot, which unlike many southern Israeli cities is not accustomed to rocket fire, causing panic. The Israeli military said the alarm went off because the rocket exploded in an area between the two cities.