One killed, dozens injured in Gaza rocket barrage targeting southern Israel
GIL COHEN-MAGEN (AFP)
One man has been killed and dozens more have been injured in a series of massive missile and mortar attacks that began late Monday afternoon and continued overnight and into Tuesday morning, during which some 400 projectiles have been fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israeli communities.
The first fatality in Israel was confirmed after rescuers pulled the body of a man in his 40’s from beneath the rubble of an apartment building in the city of Ashkelon that sustained a direct missile hit shortly after midnight on Tuesday.
The dead man was identified by police as a 48-year-old Palestinian man, Mahmoud Abu Asbah, a resident of the West Bank town of Halhul, north of Hebron. A woman also in her 40’s, reported to be the man’s wife, was also found seriously injured and rushed to hospital.
The Haaretz daily said that the couple were spotted by a photographer who had come to take pictures of the badly damaged structure about an hour after police and rescuers had already left the scene.
Police told the paper in response that the building had been checked a number of times, but that the unit the couple was found in sustained the heaviest damage and “everything was destroyed.”
Earlier, rescuers extracted a 60-year-old woman from the same building with critical injuries caused by rocket shrapnel. Six others were lightly injured when the building was struck.
Israel police said that more than 50 people have been injured in the rocket attacks since Monday afternoon.
The Israeli military said it had struck hundreds of militant sites in Gaza in response to over 370 rockets fired from the Hamas-run territory. Approximately 100 of those rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the army said, but a number struck homes and buildings in a number of towns throughout the south.
Early Tuesday morning, Palestinian militant factions threatened to ramp up the rocket attacks, targeting the cities of Ashdod and Beersheba deeper inside Israeli territory, if Israel did not cease its retaliation.
Gaza's health ministry said six Palestinians were killed and 23 wounded in Israeli retaliatory strikes.
Two of the deceased were identified as members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine militant group and the third as a member of Islamic Jihad's armed wing.
Two Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes Tuesday morning, one targeting a militant who was part of a group launching projectiles at its territory and another helicopter strike against Gazans seen attempting to breach the security fence.
Earlier Tuesday, the ministry announced the death of a Palestinian civilian wounded in a previous Israeli strike.
The massive flare-up in violence began on Monday afternoon after an anti-tank guided missile fired from the Gaza Strip hit a civilian bus that had reportedly just moments before been filled with dozens of Israeli troops.
One soldier who had been standing outside the bus when it exploded into flames was critically injured. The soldier was expected to be moved into intensive care after undergoing surgery.
Video of the attack published by Hamas Tuesday morning showed militants apparently tracking the bus for several minutes before firing the missile.
The attack on the bus came on the heels of a clash between IDF special forces and local Hamas fighters during a rare Israeli ground mission inside the Gaza Strip overnight Sunday during which one Israeli soldier and seven Palestinians, including a local commander for Hamas' armed wing, were killed.
The dramatic escalation came as months of deadly unrest along the Gaza-Israel border had appeared to be calming, with Egyptian-led efforts to forge a long-term ceasefire and bring much-needed reprieve to the impoverished Palestinian enclave having seemed to finally be making headway.
Recent weeks have seen Israeli decisions to allow Qatar to provide the Gaza Strip with millions of dollars in aid for salaries as well as fuel to help ease an electricity crisis.
Netanyahu cut short a trip to Paris and rushed home as tensions rose, and on Monday convened a meeting of security chiefs.
The Israeli security cabinet, which has the authority to decide on launching wars, was set to meet on Tuesday morning in light of the escalation.
UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who along with Egypt has been seeking a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, called the escalation "extremely dangerous" and said on Twitter that "restraint must be shown by all".
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008, and deadly clashes in recent months have raised fears of a fourth.
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