GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – An Israeli airstrike killed a top Palestinian rocket launcher and an accomplice Tuesday. The missile attack also claimed the lives of eight civilians, inflaming Palestinian anger already aroused over the deaths of Gaza beachgoers.
Israel’s military said Tuesday’s civilian deaths, including those of two children, came as the group rapidly converged on the target of the attack – a disabled van carrying the militants – too late for pilots to divert a missile.
The violence coincided with bloody infighting among Palestinian gunmen, and could hurt attempts by President Mahmoud Abbas and the West to pressure the Hamas government to moderate its anti-Israel stance.
Abbas accused Israel of “state terrorism,” and the Islamic Jihad militant group vowed to avenge the death of its chief rocket launcher, Hamoud Wadiya.
An official Israeli inquiry, meanwhile, concluded Israel was not responsible for the blast that killed eight Gaza beachgoers Friday, rejecting Palestinian accusations that an Israeli artillery round was to blame.
The results of the probe, released Tuesday, concluded the blast was caused by an explosive buried in the sand, but it was not clear how it got there. Unexploded ordnance is a problem in Gaza, where there are several incidents a year of Palestinians wounded in blasts.
In recent months, volleys of homemade Palestinian rockets at southern Israel have provoked harsh Israeli artillery and airstrikes. On Tuesday, Israel sent aircraft after militants it said were on their way to carry out a rocket attack on Israel.
A first missile missed the militants’ van as it traveled along a main road in Gaza City and sent it crashing into a curb. Two more missiles killed two militants inside the van, as well as eight civilians who had gathered near the site of the first strike.