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Hamas fails to rein in Gaza rocket attacks, prompting Israel strike

After Gaza rocket attacks resulted in the first fatality since last year's war, Israeli warplanes carried out retaliatory air strikes on at least six targets overnight. Hamas is struggling to contain unaffiliated militants in Gaza.

By Erin CunninghamCorrespondent / March 19, 2010

Palestinians examine a smuggling tunnel damaged in an Israeli air strike early Friday, at the border between Egypt and Rafah, southern Gaza Strip.

Eyad Baba/AP

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Gaza City, Gaza

Israeli warplanes carried out air strikes on at least six targets across the Gaza Strip on Friday morning, just hours after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants killed a foreign migrant worker in southern Israel – the first fatality from a rocket attack since last year’s Gaza war.

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There were no reported casualties from today’s air strikes in Gaza, which, according to an Israeli military spokesman, targeted three smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, two tunnels the army said were designed to infiltrate Israel, and a metal workshop near Gaza City.

But the raids and deadly rocket fire that prompted them are becoming a growing problem for Hamas, which rules Gaza and has largely adhered to a de facto cease-fire with Israel but has struggled recently to rein in local extremist groups who lambast the movement for what they say is its increasingly moderate stance.

“These types of attacks from other groups in Gaza, like the one on Thursday, anger Hamas, because Hamas wants to show the entire world they are in control here,” says Gaza-based political analyst, Haidar Eid. “Hamas wants to govern and rebuild, but it’s not giving an alternative to the other groups who want to continue to fight Israel.”

Jihadist group blames Jerusalem clashes

A previously unknown jihadist group, Ansar al-Sunna, claimed responsibility for Thursday’s rocket attack, saying in a statement that “the jihadist mission came in response to the Zionist assaults against the Ibrahimi and al-Aqsa mosques and the continued Zionist aggression against our people in Jerusalem.”

This week saw sporadic Palestinian unrest across East Jerusalem and the West Bank, after Israel announced construction plans for 1,600 new homes in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The Hamas leadership in Gaza called on Palestinians in the West Bank to rise up in armed struggled against the Israeli occupation, but stopped short of encouraging attacks from Gaza.

Hamas banned rocket attacks in November

Hamas announced to local militant groups in November a ban on rocket attacks from Gaza, citing the need to rebuild the devastated territory.

The Hamas undersecretary for political affairs, Ahmed Yusuf, reiterated on Friday that his movement has no interest in provoking Israel into another war in Gaza. But Israeli officials said they hold Hamas responsible for any attacks on Israel that originate from the territory.

Local jihadist groups like Ansar al-Sunna have fired a number of rockets into Israel over the past year, and have stepped up their attacks on Hamas security forces and institutions in recent weeks.

Recently, explosions rocked several police stations and Hamas military vehicles across Gaza, causing no casualties but prompting a swift Hamas crackdown on known extreme jihadists in Gaza, of which there are just 200 to 300, according to analysts.

“These militants, they don’t like our cease-fire with Israel,” says Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman, Ehab Ghussein. “It’s not easy to say we have 100 percent control over the situation. But we won’t let Gaza become another Baghdad.”

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