Pretoria News

Israel, militants exchange fire

ISRAEL and Gaza militants traded more heavy fire yesterday, the third day of the worst escalation of violence in months that has killed 26 people in the blockaded Palestinian enclave.

Air strikes by the Israeli army since Tuesday have killed fighters as well as civilians, including several children, said officials in the crowded coastal territory. Cairo mediated in efforts toward a truce between Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group, while France, Germany, Jordan and Egypt called for an end to the violence.

Militants in the Gaza Strip have fired more than 550 rockets at Israel, causing no casualties so far, the Israeli military said. Of these, over 440 rockets made it over the border and at least 154 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system, while one in five fell inside Gaza, it said. Shops in Gaza were shuttered and the streets largely abandoned as Israeli military aircraft circled over the territory where several buildings lay in ruins.

Islamic Jihad confirmed it has lost five military leaders in strikes in recent days, including Ahmed Abu Deka.

Abu Deka was the deputy of Ali Ghali, the commander of a rocket launch unit killed by Israel earlier yesterday. Fresh rockets at southern Israel followed the Israeli strike. Another militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said four of its fighters had been killed.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said he had instructed the security establishment “to take all the measures necessary, to prepare additional actions and maintain readiness for the possibility of increased fire”.

Across southern Israel, sirens wailed intermittently through the night and yesterday morning. An Islamic Jihad source said senior member Mohammad al-Hindi, head of the group’s political department, would arrive in Cairo yesterday for talks.

An Egyptian source said that a security delegation from Cairo would be in Tel Aviv yesterday for ceasefire talks.

Israeli officials confirmed Egypt’s involvement in attempts to facilitate understandings between the sides toward halting the hostilities.

Yesterday, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said “we stand by Israel’s right to defend itself”, and that Washington was engaged in efforts “towards a quick de-escalation”. Both Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Islamic Jihad are considered terrorist groups by Israel and the US. This week’s Gaza clashes are the worst since a three-day escalation in August killed 49 Palestinians, with no Israeli fatalities.

Violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli army has staged repeated raids against militants

Yesterday, a Palestinian died from his wounds after being shot by the Israeli army in a raid the day before in the West Bank city of Qabatiya, the Palestinian health ministry said.

The conflict has escalated since veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power last year. |





African News Agency