Gaza militants launch rockets far into Israel

A Palestinian boy looks at the damage to a smuggling tunnel following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, on the Gaza Strip’s southern border with Egypt, on Thursday. (Associated Press)
A Palestinian boy looks at the damage to a smuggling tunnel following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, on the Gaza Strip’s southern border with Egypt, on Thursday. (Associated Press)

JERUSALEM – Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a new wave of rockets that landed deep inside Israel on Thursday, defying Israeli retaliatory attacks and threats.

As the violence threatened to escalate the day after a deadly Jerusalem bombing, Israel got a boost from the visiting U.S. defense chief, who said no country could tolerate the “repugnant” attacks on its soil.

Police said Gaza militants fired 10 rockets and mortars toward Israel Thursday, including two rockets that exploded north of the city of Ashdod, a main Mediterranean port city about 20 miles north of Gaza – a first since Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers reached an unofficial truce following a three-week war that ended in January 2009. Israeli airstrikes hit a number of Gaza targets in retaliation throughout the day.

Neither side reported injuries or said they wanted a new fight. But the new hostilities could easily spin out of control, especially if civilian deaths mount.

Wednesday’s bombing killed a British tourist, and five members of a Jewish family were slain while they slept in a West Bank settlement earlier this month. Israel has blamed Palestinians for both attacks.

Also this week, Israeli shelling killed three children and their uncle in Gaza. The army said it was targeting militants.

The fighting in Gaza has been the fiercest since Israel went to war in 2009 there to try to curb years of rocket attacks. The three-week offensive killed some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis also died. The volatile border has remained largely calm since.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak blamed Hamas for the rocket fire and vowed to strike back.

His tough stance was backed by visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said that no sovereign state could tolerate rockets fired at its people.

“Israel, like all nations, has the right to self-defense and to bring to justice the perpetrators of these repugnant attacks,” he said.

Citing gag orders, Israeli security officials have said little about the investigations into Wednesday’s bus stop bombing or the knife killings two weeks ago.

Israeli counterterrorism expert Boaz Ganor said the bombing and knifing attacks appeared to be individual initiatives, as opposed to the organized attacks by militant groups that Israel usually faces.

“Israeli intelligence is quite good in thwarting suicide attacks,” he said. “It may be less able to deal with local and personal attacks.”

Israeli police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigations, said that even if the attacks were individual acts, Israel believes Hamas guided and motivated the attackers.

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