Israel bombs Gaza tunnels in series of air raids

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The Independent Online

Israel launched a series of air strikes in the Gaza Strip yesterday, targeting a Hamas security complex and tunnels used to smuggle weapons after vowing a "disproportionate" response to cross-border fire.

The aircraft carried out half a dozen strikes after three Israelis were injured by a mortar salvo, including two soldiers and the first Israeli civilian hurt since an 18 January truce ended Israel's 22-day offensive in the coastal enclave.

There were no reported casualties in the air attacks. Five of the strikes targeted tunnels along Gaza's border with Egypt, used to smuggle weapons into the coastal enclave, in a zone known as the Philadelphi corridor.

A further Israeli attack was on a security headquarters in a village in central Gaza that residents said had been vacated after Israel telephoned warnings to Palestinians to leave buildings that housed any weapons.

An Israeli military statement said that "in response to rocket and mortar fire today, the air force has attacked a number of targets in the (Gaza) Strip, including six tunnels and a Hamas position." Hamas said five tunnels had been bombed.

Egypt, with US backing, has been trying to broker a long-term ceasefire that would end Hamas weapons smuggling into Gaza and also lead to a reopening of Gaza border crossings, one of Hamas's main demands.

Israel's blockade of Gaza, since Hamas Islamists seized the coastal territory from Western-back Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, has led to shortages of crucial supplies for many of the 1.5 million Palestinians living there.

Israel's renewed air strikes came as its leaders took a hard line against rocket fire from Gaza ahead of a Feb. 10 national election, which opinion polls predict right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who favours a tougher stance toward Hamas, will win.

About a dozen rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza yesterday, the Israeli military said.

A wing of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group belonging to Abbas's Fatah faction, said it fired some of the rockets, but not all were claimed.

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