A roadside bomb hit an Israeli army patrol along the Gaza border Tuesday, prompting Israeli counterstrikes. The exchanges threatened the cease-fire that has largely prevailed since Israel ended its three-week offensive Jan.
The Los Angeles Times reports that one Israeli soldier was killed and another seriously wounded when an explosive device detonated along the border fence between Gaza and Israel. Israel responded with tank fire and helicopter strikes, reportedly killing a Palestinian farmer, according to the newspaper.
The clash, near the central Gaza border crossing of Kissufim, is the most serious threat so far to the separate cease-fires declared by Israel and Hamas.....
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Israeli officials maintain that they hold the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, responsible for the actions of all Palestinian resistance factions.
Gazan militants have remained quiet since Jan. 18, but the Israeli navy has regularly fired warning shots at Gazan fishermen, and there have been at least two incidents of Palestinians shot by soldiers across the border.
The Associated Press reports that it was not clear "if the bomb had been planted after the cease-fire took hold or whether it was an older device." Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, said Israel "cannot accept" the attack. Hamas, however, blamed the clash on Israel.
"We will respond, but there is no point in elaborating," Barak said in comments released by his office.
Israel closed its crossings into Gaza to humanitarian aid traffic after briefly opening them Tuesday morning. Gaza border official Raed Fattouh said Israeli officials informed him the closure was due to the attack....
Although there was no claim of responsibility, Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas leader, said Israel was to blame for continuing to fire into Gaza. Al-Masri said his group had not agreed to a full cease-fire but only to a "lull" in fighting.
"The Zionists are responsible for any aggression," he said.
"I don't care who fired," said Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading the ruling party in the campaign for the February 10 ballot. "Hamas controls Gaza and is responsible for everything that happens. Whenever they fire at me from Gaza, set off a bomb or launch a missile or smuggle (weapons), Israel will respond."
Hamas said an air strike some hours later targeted two people on a motorcycle, a type of vehicle often used by its gunmen. Medics said the pair were critically wounded.
Although not claiming responsibility, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri praised the bomb attack on the troops as "a natural response to the crimes of the occupier." Two Palestinians were killed last week in incidents blamed on Israeli fire.
The Associated Press reports that Hamas says one of its members was wounded in the Israeli airstrike.
The attacks mark the worst violence since Jan. 17, when Israel ended its 22-day offensive in Gaza, and declared a unilateral cease-fire the following day. Hamas officials soon declared their own cease-fire. The Israeli government says the offensive was aimed at stopping rocket attacks by Hamas. Around 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the offensive, which left widespread destruction in Gaza.
The increased violence comes as George Mitchell, the new US envoy to the Middle East, began a visit to the region Tuesday aimed at bolstering the cease-fire and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Agence France-Presse reports. Mr. Mitchell's schedule includes visits to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
"The charge that Senator Mitchell has is to engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress," Obama said after talks at the White House attended also by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"It is not something that we're going to be able to do overnight," Obama cautioned, but added he was confident of progress if Washington is engaged in the process.
Ahead of Mitchell's departure, State Department spokesman Robert Wood did not rule out his also travelling to the Gaza Strip, where Islamist Hamas fighters and Israel fought a war that killed at least 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
[Editor's note: The original headline mischaracterized cause and effect.]