Israeli airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza overnight and the return fire of 14 rockets into southern Israel is intensifying concerns of a full-blown conflict after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers as well as a Palestinian teen.
Palestinian rockets hit two homes in Sderot but caused no injuries. Ten people were injured by the Israeli strikes. According to The New York Times, the Israeli military said they had launched airstrikes in response to earlier rocket fire, specifically targeted training sites associated with the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Israel also positioned troops along the Gaza border in what it described as a defensive measure.
The strikes come in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair on Wednesday. His death set off riots in East Jerusalem, The Christian Science Monitor reported, and many worry that his funeral could lead to increased strife. The funeral is due to be held today but has been delayed so that Israeli and Palestinian doctors can examine the body, the BBC reports.
Palestinians view Khudair’s murder on Wednesday, which is under investigation, as revenge for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. The bodies of the three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel, were recovered on Monday after an 18-day search that resulted in the arrest of more than 350 Palestinians.
After the discovery of their bodies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to hold Hamas accountable. “They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by human animals. Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.”
Hamas has claimed no responsibility for the murders. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded to Israel's threats by saying, “If the occupiers carry out an escalation or a war, they will open the gates of hell on themselves.”
As the Monitor’s Jerusalem correspondent Christa Case Bryant noted in her dispatch yesterday, violence related to the murder of the Palestinian teenager could again escalate after Friday prayers.
“The incident punctuates growing tensions since yesterday's funeral of the three teens, which served as a national moment of mourning and a rallying point for those seeking revenge. Later in the evening hundreds of Israelis reportedly marched through Jerusalem shouting “Death to Arabs.” A Facebook page called “The People of Israel Demand Vengeance” now has more than 35,000 likes. Mr. Netanyahu has urged citizens not to take the law into their own hands.”
As the Washington Post notes, Israeli airstrikes are most likely just the beginning of whatever the government decides will be the ultimate response to the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers.
“Israel’s security cabinet met for the third time in as many days Wednesday to discuss Israel’s response to the murder of the three. No details from the meeting were published. The recent tit-for-tat exchange of fire in Gaza is not expected to be Israel’s response.”
Israel positioned troops along the border with Gaza, but said it was a defensive measure, The New York Times reported.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said that despite the mobilization — which included the call-up of some reservists for duties in headquarters — Israel was not interested in further escalating the violent exchanges with Gaza that have been building for more than two weeks. ...
“We are moving, and we have moved, forces to serve defensive activities and forward preparations,” Colonel Lerner told reporters on a conference call. “The main issue is how Hamas is reading the situation,” he added. “We don’t want to take it further, but we will be prepared for the developments.”
The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is expected to convene a meeting today of Palestinian leaders to discuss the ongoing situation, as well as the possibility of the authority joining more United Nations organizations, according to The New York Times.
The murders have brought strong condemnations from the international community. Yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The world has too often learned the hard way that violence only leads to more violence and at this tense and dangerous moment, all parties must do everything in their power to protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not recrimination and retribution.”