Israel mourns its dead – and takes revenge on Palestinians

Military wing of Hamas ends truce after Red Sea bus attack prompts air strikes. Donald Macintyre reports from Gaza

Donald Macintyre
Saturday 20 August 2011 00:00

Gaza militants fired rockets deep into southern Israel yesterday in the latest round of violence triggered by an unusually well-planned and co-ordinated attack that inflicted the worst death toll on Israel for more than three years.

The rocket attacks – which injured six people when one landed next to a religious college – followed Israeli air strikes on Gaza overnight and yesterday that left at least 12 more dead, including 10 militants, a two-year-old and a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who was buried in the rubble of his flattened family home.

Following two days of air strikes on coastal Gaza, the military wing of Hamas, the al-Qassam Brigades, last night announced an end to de facto truce with Israel in place since the end of the conflict of 2009, a move which could lead to an escalation in violence. "There is no longer any truce with the enemy," said the statement, which was broadcast over a Hamas radio station.

As families of victims of both sides mourned their dead, funerals were held for most of the eight victims – six civilians and two soldiers – of Thursday's militant onslaught near Israel's popular Red Sea resort of Eilat.

Israel accuses the Gaza militant group the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) of responsibility for the attack near Eilat, which started when gunmen opened fire on a bus crowded with soldiers and civilians. The militants then fired on private cars and exploded a roadside bomb. However, Israel insists that Hamas remains responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza. Egypt yesterday formally complained to Israel about the deaths of three members of its own security forces, killed as Israeli troops pursued gunmen whom they identified as having been behind the roadside ambushes. Israel said that its forces had hit seven of the gunmen but their identity remains unknown.

Among the Israeli victims named yesterday was Yosef Levi, 52, whose wife, Etie, was injured by a bullet in her shoulder and played dead for 90 minutes as she lay bleeding by her husband's body, according to a report in Haaretz newspaper. The sisters Flora Gez, 52, and Shula Karlitzky, 54, and their husbands, Moshe Gez, 53, and Dov Karlitzky, 58, were also killed, when their car was attacked. The funeral was also held for Staff Sgt Moshe Naftali of Ofra, 22, who was killed in a gun battle with the militants. His commander said the soldier "had a sense of humour and was moral and professional. The enemy will not defeat us. We will do anything we can to follow in Moshe's footsteps."

Another security force member, the counter-terrorism commander Paskal Avrahami, aged 49, was buried in Jerusalem. "We lost a fighter who fought bravely," police commissioner Yohanan Danino said at his funeral.

The sense of loss was replicated in Gaza following the deaths from the Israeli reprisal attacks. Mahmoud Abu Samra, 13, died inside a house in northern Gaza City which was demolished in the attack. The house was about 100 metres from a long-disused Palestinian intelligence headquarters that had been wrecked by previous bombing.

The dead boy's father, Atif, said that three of his children had been sleeping when he and his wife saw a flash of light before the house collapsed around them. His two other children are in hospital, while he was injured in the foot.

"I want them to answer me: 'Why did you hit this place?' Is it our fault the Eilat operation was done?" Mr Abu Samra, a taxi driver, said. He dismissed suggestion by neighbours that waste ground beside the house had been used for Hamas training.

Although Israel has begun constructing a security fence along two sections of its border with Egypt, only about 10 per cent has been built, provoking criticisms that the border is all too porous to militant infiltration. A man said by the Israeli authorities to be part of the group behind the attacks blew himself up on the Israel-Egypt border, injuring several Egyptian soldiers.

An Israeli strike late in the afternoon of Thursday's attack killed five members of the PRC, including its military commander Abu Awad Nayrab. It also killed the two-year-old son of one of them. The attack left only a crater two metres deep and one metre square in the yard where the militants had been gathered. Claiming the group had been hit by a drone, traditionally dressed women family members of the house praised the Eilat attack – despite the civilian casualties – while insisting the PRC had not been behind it. One relative, Fatima Shaath, 22, said: "This attack [by Israel] will make us stronger, not weaker."

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