Israel strikes Gaza targets amid political fallout at home

Israeli airstrikes killed seven Hamas members and two civilians. In Israel, three of six suspects in the killing of Palestinian teen Muhammed Abu Khudeir reportedly confessed.

Hatem Moussa/AP
Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza Strip, early Monday, July 7, 2014.

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Israeli airstrikes killed seven Hamas members and two civilians in the Gaza Strip, amid the latest fallout from the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teens and a Palestinian teen.

The Israeli military said it launched attacks Monday on "terror sites and concealed rocket launchers across the Gaza Strip" in response to a series of rockets fired from the Palestinian territory over the weekend. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the attacks a "grave escalation," Reuters reports, and promised Israel would "pay the price."

But the Israeli strikes on Gaza appear not to have been enough for the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which came to power in an alliance with Likud last year. Beiteinu – which has several cabinet positions, including that of foreign minister, held by party leader Avigdor Lieberman – has pushed for a strong military response to Hamas in response to the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens in June. (Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied committing the kidnapping.) But today, Beiteinu announced today it was ending its alliance with Likud, reports Haaretz.

"Disagreements between the prime minister and me are fundamental and do not allow for a future partnership," Lieberman said. "The partnership did not work during the elections, it did not work after the elections and to this day there were quite a few technical issues. When technical issues turn to fundamental ones there is no point in continuing."

Israeli Prime Minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu pointedly and publicly criticized Mr. Lieberman and fellow Beiteinu member Economy Minister Naftali Bennett over their "inflammatory and brash" rhetoric criticizing the government's response to the rocket fire from Gaza. "In these moments we must be level-headed and responsible," he said at a weekly cabinet meeting.

Lieberman noted during the Beiteinu announcement today that the end of the partnership did not mean that it was ending its role in government. Its ministers will retain their portfolios and continue in coalition with Likud, he said. It is not clear what the announcement means in practical terms, as Likud said the two parties will continue to meet regularly to plan policy. A Likud source told Haaretz that "the maneuver is not something to get excited over. Lieberman needs to rehabilitate his crashing poll numbers, and he has to distance himself from Netanyahu to regain his popularity."

Beiteinu's announcement comes at a tumultuous time, not just over Hamas and the three teens' kidnapping and murder. The Israeli government is also facing demands from Palestinians and Western governments to respond to the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teen in apparent retaliation by vigilantes over the prior incident. The Christian Science Monitor's Christa Case Bryant reported yesterday that the retaliatory murder has stirred violent demonstrations across Arab areas, as Palestinians accuse authorities of a slow response to the killing, particularly in comparison to the strong government reaction to the Israeli teens' plight just days earlier.

From the start Palestinians have accused Jews of perpetrating the abduction and murder after three Israeli teens were found murdered in the West Bank on Monday, June 30, after a massive search effort that lasted 18 days. Their funeral was held the following day.

Israeli police have yet to definitively assign a sectarian motive to [Muhammed Abu Khudeir]’s killing, but the arrest of Jewish suspects today discredit previous claims by Israelis that he was killed for being gay or as part of a family feud. ...

Six Jewish suspects were arrested today and questioned by the domestic Israeli security agency, Shin Bet. Israel’s Channel 2 news reported that the suspects were part of an extremist cell and come from Jerusalem, the West Bank settlement of Adam just north of Jerusalem, and Beit Shemesh.

The suspects are being held under Israeli terrorism laws. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, three of the six suspects reportedly confessed to the killing of Muhammed Abu Khudeir, and have described in detail his kidnapping and killing to police.

The Washington Post reports that the six Israelis' act appears to substantiate a long-growing fear among human rights advocates that Israel has been letting ultranationalism fester for far too long. Though so-called "price tag" vigilantism has been growing, the Palestinian teen's brutal murder has brought the problem home for Israelis.

“This a shock for most Israeli Jews, and I think it’s a kind of wake-up call,” Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said in an interview Sunday evening. “This is something that will change the way people think, and it will lead to a better understanding that we need to act when we see even the smallest signs of incitement, whether it is on Internet sites or price-tag attacks.”

Livni said the conflict is “not just between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is within Israel between different Israeli citizens, and this is what worries me the most.”

The Times of Israel reports that mutual condolences have been exchanged between the families of one of the murdered Israelis and that of the Palestinian. Yishai Fraenkel, uncle of Eyal Yifrah, one of the murdered Israelis, told Ynet News that “there is no difference between those who murdered Mohammed, and those who murdered our children. Those are murderers, and these are murderers. And both must be dealt with to the full extent of the law, and we told [Muhammed's father] that.”

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