Israeli army ups alertness along Gaza border following skirmishes

23:17, December 29, 2010      

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The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has intensified operational readiness along the Israel-Gaza Strip border following a clash on Tuesday night in which one Palestinian militant was killed and several civilians wounded.

Israeli aircraft and tanks opened fire at a number of militants who were spotted planting explosives near the security fence in the southern Strip and confirmed hitting one of them, according to a statement issued by the IDF Spokesperson's Unit.

The statement said it was the second attempt by militants to target IDF troops in the area in less than 72 hours.

Palestinian officials identified the slain militant as Mahmoud Abu Rook, 20, a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, a group affiliated with the Islamic Hamas movement.

On Sunday, an IDF force, assisted by aircraft and armor, killed two militants in the same area after they were seen planting explosives along the border fence.

The statement issued Monday by the IDF maintained that Gaza's militant groups exploit the presence of Palestinian civilians in the area as a cover for their activities, which include the planting of explosive devices, gathering intelligence for future attacks and attempting to kidnap IDF troops.

"The IDF holds Hamas solely responsible for any 'terrorist' activity emanating from the Gaza Strip," the statement said.

Tuesday's incident marks a further escalation in violence along the border in recent weeks. On Saturday, Israeli aircraft struck several targets in the northern and southern Strip in response to the firing of rockets and mortars into southern Israel. No casualties were reported in those attacks.

In a bid to calm tensions, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar on Friday repeated his organization's commitment to maintaining the ceasefire declared by both sides in the aftermath of the Gaza war in early 2009.

Senior Israeli officials earlier this week cautioned Hamas of the repercussions of violating the delicate ceasefire. "Hamas knows that if it renews the conflict, our response will be harsh. Israel will not return to the situation that existed prior to the 2009 offensive," local news service Nana10 quoted Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom as saying.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz hinted that the IDF would eventually have to respond more harshly to the surge in violence in the area, saying that "sooner or later Israel will have no choice but to subdue Hamas' regime in Gaza. I estimate that eventually we'll be forced to do so," Steinitz said.

Source: Xinhua


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