IDF strikes Gaza in retaliation for deadly shooting attack

Toddler and her father said killed in air raid hours after Palestinian sniper guns down Defense Ministry employee fixing border fence

Smoke billows after an IDF strike in the Gaza Strip, December 2013. (photo credit: screen capture/ Channel 2)
Smoke billows after an IDF strike in the Gaza Strip, December 2013. (photo credit: screen capture/ Channel 2)

The Israeli air force launched strikes Tuesday afternoon on targets in the Gaza Strip, in response to a sniper attack earlier that killed an Israeli civilian.

According to Israel Radio, the IAF destroyed a Hamas military training facility west of the Khan Yunis refugee camp. The report added that Hamas targets in the Gaza neighborhood of Zaytoun and the Al-Bureij camp were damaged by the IAF as well.

IDF tanks also fired shells at what it said were terror targets in the Gaza neighborhoods of Zaytoun, Shuja’iyya and the al-Bureij refugee camp.

Military sources said that the airstrikes were “limited in scope” and “are not ongoing.” Aside from a directive given to farmers to avoid the fields in direct proximity to the border, the IDF Home Front Command issued no further orders to civilians in the area.

According to Palestinian sources in the Strip, two people — a 3-year-old child named Hala Sabiha and her father — were killed during the Israeli strikes, and nine were injured.

The father and daughter were killed during an airstrike on a target located in the central Gaza Strip refugee camp of Deir al-Balah, according to Palestinian Ma’an News agency. No casualties were reported as a result of the strike near Khan Yunis.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned the IDF strikes in Gaza, calling them a “cowardly crime.” The attacks, Abu Zuhri said, did not “deter Palestinian resistance fighters from carrying out their duty.”

The IDF had no immediate comment on the report of Palestinian fatalities.

Shortly before the air force strikes, the Hamas leadership ordered the evacuation of all security personal from their posts in Gaza for fear of an imminent Israeli attack.

“Earlier today a Gaza sniper killed an Israeli civilian by firing a single bullet at his chest,” said the IDF spokesperson’s office in a statement. “The individual was shot while doing maintenance along the Israel-Gaza security fence in the northern Gaza Strip. This is the first Israeli civilian killed in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip since Operation Pillar of Defense” last year.

“In response, IAF aircrafts and IDF tanks and infantry retaliated and targeted terror sites in the Gaza Strip. The sites targeted were a weapon manufacturing facility and a terror infrastructure in the southern Gaza Strip, a terror site and another terror infrastructure in the central Gaza Strip, and a concealed rocket launcher in the northern Gaza Strip. Direct hits were confirmed.”

The Israeli who was killed, 22-year-old Saleh Abu Latif from the predominantly Bedouin city of Rahat, was working between Nahal Oz and Kfar Aza as a civilian employed by the Israeli Defense Ministry on repairs to a section of the Israel-Gaza border fence damaged in last week’s storm.

22-year-old Saleh Abu Latif, killed by a Gaza sniper Tuesday, December 12 (photo credit: screen shot/ Channel 2)
22-year-old Saleh Abu Latif, killed by a Gaza sniper Tuesday, December 24 (photo credit: screen shot/ Channel 2)

The fence had collapsed in three locations due to the storm.

Following the sniper attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that Israel will not stand silent in face of any assault on its citizen population.

“This is a very serious incident,” Netanyahu said shortly after the attack. “Our policy has been to foil terror attempts ahead of time and respond forcefully, and that’s how we will act in this case as well,” he said.

“We will not allow for daily life to be disrupted in the South,” said Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, “and will respond aggressively and painfully to any threat that may compromise our sovereignty and harm our citizens and soldiers. I suggest that Hamas not test our patience, and assert its authority in the region. If there will be no peace in Israel, there will be no peace in Gaza.

“There is no direct connection between the terrorist attacks of the past two days and the shooting at the border of the Gaza Strip, which resulted in the death of an Israeli worker, but we treat all such incidents very seriously,” Ya’alon added.

Only a few hours before the killing of the Israeli civilian, the prime minister commented on the recent increase of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, and vowed to put an end to such attacks.

“We will not allow intermittent missile fire to turn into a storm,” he said.

Two hours after the shooting, Gazan authorities reported that an 18-year-old Palestinian man was moderately wounded from IDF fire east of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. The young man was reportedly evacuated to the hospital. It was not immediately clear if IDF troops were operating in the area, which is located a few kilometers from the site of the sniper shooting.

The IDF deployed additional forces to the Gaza border area after the shooting.

Israeli sources say Hamas has pointedly neglected its duties under agreements reached following last year’s Operation Pillar of Defense, according to which Hamas was responsible for patrolling the Gazan side of the border and preventing attacks on Israel from the Strip.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Shmuel Zakai, former head of IDF’s Gaza Division, told Israel Radio shortly after the shooting that there was “clearly an escalation of terror incidents” in recent weeks.

Nevertheless, he said, “Israel must continue along the delicate path that intercepts the terror activity with good intelligence and precision operations, not with a response that is overly aggressive and could lead to a further escalation in the area.”

On Monday, troops fired on a Palestinian man near the northern border of the Gaza Strip. According to the IDF Spokesperson, the Palestinian was spotted placing an explosive device near the border fence. Israeli soldiers fired at his lower extremities. The 20-year-old man suffered moderate gunshot wounds to the leg and abdomen, the Palestinian Ma’an News reported.

There have reportedly been several attempts to place explosives on the border fence in the past several days.

Earlier in the day Monday, Gazans fired a rocket that landed near a children’s bus stop in the Ashkelon area.

The IDF said it would not change plans to ease restrictions on Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Gaza for the Christmas holiday.

A spokesperson declined to comment on steps the army may take to increase its level of readiness in the face of the string of attacks.

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