Israeli air strikes killed a 12-year-old boy and two other Palestinians in the Gaza Strip today as militants fired fresh volleys of rockets at southern Israel on the third day of violence triggered by the killing of a militant leader.
Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, said the exchanges of fire — the deadliest in months — could take several days to subside. Israeli air strikes have killed 16 militants in Gaza and two civilians since Friday, emergency services say. More than 90 rockets and mortars have landed in Israel, wounding three people, according to the Israeli army.
In today’s hostilities, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by a missile fired from an Israeli aircraft in the northern Gaza Strip town of Jabalya, medical officials said. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza said the boy, Ayoub Assaliya, was with a group of children and other civilians when the missile crashed into their neighbourhood, also wounding two of the boy’s relatives.
An Israeli army spokesman said he had no specific information on the incident, but said the military has been targeting rocket-launching squads and arms depots and manufacturing sites, while militants in Gaza were “using civilians as human shields.”
In a separate attack, a civilian guard at a farm was killed, Gaza medical officials said. The PCHR identified him as Adel al-Essi, 63, and said he was hit when a missile landed near an agricultural plot in Gaza City, seriously wounding two militants.
In a third attack, a militant was killed at a rocket launching site in Gaza City, local emergency services said.
The Israeli army said it had struck a militant at a location from which two rockets had been fired at the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod.
With more than one million people in southern Israel within range of rocket fire, schools were closed across the region, including Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, and public gatherings were banned as a precaution against further attacks. The army said that its anti- missile interception systems had downed 37 rockets aimed at southern Israeli cities.
Mr Barak told the weekly meeting of the Israeli cabinet that the militant Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, was not involved in the rocket firing, but had not halted the attacks by two other militant factions, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and Islamic Jihad.
An Israeli air strike on Friday killed a PRC leader, Zuheir al-Qaisi, and another member of the group, prompting the rocket salvos. Israeli officials said Mr al-Qaisi had been plotting an infiltration attack into southern Israel from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, similar to a raid in August that left eight Israelis dead.
Egypt has been trying to mediate an end to the current round of fighting, the latest of periodic flare-ups across the volatile Gaza border, but spokesmen for the PRC and Islamic Jihad said they had rejected truce overtures.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the cabinet meeting that Israel had “exacted a very heavy price” from Gaza militants and he pledged that “we will act as needed.”