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Four Palestinian Militants Killed In Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza

At least four Palestinian militants have been killed and several others injured in Israeli airstrikes in the Hamas-administered Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said Wednesday. All the four people killed in the airstrikes were members of the the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the airstrikes were prompted by a barrage of rocket and mortar fire into southern Israel by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. More than 60 rockets and mortars struck southern Israel between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. At least two people were injured in the rocket attacks.

The Israeli military said the airstrikes targeted rocket launching sites in northern Gaza and the retaliatory action thwarted at least two rocket launch attempts. According to the military, at least seven rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to continue "targeted attacks" on Palestinian militants attempting to launch rockets and mortars into Israel from the Gaza Strip. He said, "We didn't ask for this escalation and didn't initiate it. But if it continues, we are prepared to embark on a far more extensive and penetrating operation."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak did not dismiss the possibility of launching a ground operation in Gaza to contain the rocket attacks. In an interview with Israeli Radio on Wednesday, Barak said: "Nobody is eager for this but we will act, as we are required to stop this wave and to increase the effectiveness of the operation."

The latest incident follows a relative lull in Israel-Gaza fighting after Palestinian militant factions and Israeli authorities agreed to the Egypt-mediated truce agreement in March. Nevertheless, the informal ceasefire has been violated several times in recent weeks, with Gaza militants firing rockets into southern Israel as well as launching cross-border attacks.

The hostilities were reportedly triggered by the death of two Palestinians militants in an Israeli airstrike on Monday. The slain militants were members of the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades and a smaller Gaza-based militant group calling itself the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC).

Israel said the airstrike was in response to a bomb attack on an Israeli patrol near the Gaza border fence. One soldier was critically injured in that attack. Nevertheless, Palestinians claimed that they attacked the Israeli border patrol after they entered Gaza near Beit Hanoun.

Israel generally responds harshly to such attacks by launching air strikes on suspected militant targets in Gaza. The Jewish nation had imposed a blockade in Gaza after Hamas came to power in the Palestinian territory in June 2007, ousting the secularist Fatah party led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Recently, Israel eased its land blockade of the coastal strip, bowing to international pressures over a deadly Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May 2010. Israel, however, still continues with its naval blockade and insists it will continue to ban or restrict shipments of materials that could have military uses.

Israel and the West consider Hamas a terrorist organization due to its refusal to give up violence and recognize Israel. The Jewish State refuses to engage in negotiations with Hamas, and prefer to channel aid to Palestinians through the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank.

Hamas was not involved in the direct peace negotiations that resumed in Washington in September 2010 between Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders after a two-year gap. The US-brokered peace talks are presently deadlocked over Israel's refusal to extend a construction freeze in the West Bank after its expiry.

by RTT Staff Writer

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