Israel mounts new strikes in Gaza

Israel launched missile strikes in Gaza on Tuesday, targeting buildings it said were used by fighters in response to renewed Palestinian rocket attacks on the Jewish state.

The flare-up of violence — one of the worst since Israel quit the Gaza Strip last month — followed Israel’s killing of a top Islamic Jihad man in the occupied West Bank and threatened to unravel an eight-month-old ceasefire.

The Palestinian Authority said it had deployed forces near launching sites overnight to stop rocket attacks. Both Israeli and Palestinian security sources said firing by fighters ultimately ceased.

Israel, whose Gaza pullout after 38 years of occupation raised Middle East peace hopes, launched its latest air strikes before dawn following similar strikes and artillery fire at targets late Monday. The air strikes were the first since last month.

A Palestinian woman and her two daughters were wounded in one of the Israeli strikes, medics said. The strikes destroyed two buildings linked to Islamic Jihad and fighters from President Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fateh faction. Islamic Jihad men said they had fired 25 rockets into Israel to avenge Israel’s killing on Monday of Loai Assadi, one of their commanders and the most senior activist killed since the start of the truce.

Israel had said after the rocket salvoes, which caused no casualties, it would respond to any attacks.

Rockets landed short

Palestinian interior ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa vowed authorities would no longer tolerate rocket fire, saying several rockets had fallen short, landing in Palestinian residential areas although no one was hurt.

“This act does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people, especially since there was a Palestinian agreement.” Groups including Islamic Jihad, sworn to Israel’s destruction, had said last month they would stop attacks from Gaza after Israel killed several fighters.

The Jewish state has often targeted buildings in Gaza that it says were used by fighters since the start of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.

Abbas said the killing of Assadi in the West Bank had undermined his efforts to maintain calm under a ceasefire he agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in February.

The Israeli army accused Assadi of masterminding two suicide bombings that killed 10 Israelis since the truce and said he was planning further attacks.

Abbas wants to ensure that violence does not disrupt legislative elections due in January. The leading group Hamas has also said it wants to ensure calm for the elections in which it is participating for the first time. It is expected to mount a serious challenge to Fateh.

Russian diplomacy

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will travel to Israel, the Palestinian Authority territories and Jordan on a working visit Wednesday and Thursday, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported late Monday, quoting an official with the Russian ministry.

Russia is a member of the “quartet” that is sponsoring the Middle East “roadmap” peace plan and also includes the European Union, the United Nations and the United States. In his talks with the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaderships, Lavrov will discuss “the situation around Syria and Lebanon, and the situation in Iraq,” the official said.

Lavrov will “confirm Russia’s position regarding the fight against terrorism and religious extremism, and will the stress to unite the international community in the face of new threats,” he said, adding the foreign minister would also discuss bilateral relations between Russia, Israel, the Palestinian authority and Jordan.

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