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The trade of fire is the latest in a string of recent cross-border hostilities that follows a period of relative calm. A cease-fire has largely held since the end of Israel's war in Gaza in January.
The attacks come as Israel released the first of 20 female prisoners it promised to let go in exchange for a video proving that Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006, is still alive, reports The Jerusalem Post.
Agence France-Presse reports that the most recent rocket and tunnel attacks caused no casualties. On the same day, Palestinian militants fired mortars into Israel near the Kissufim crossing between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli army responded with tank fire.
YNet News, an Israeli news website, reports that Wednesday's exchange is only the latest in a series of incidents that began on Saturday, when the Israeli air force killed three Islamic Jihad militants allegedly planning to launch rockets into Israel. Militants responded by launching a Qassam rocket into Israel, and the two sides traded fire until Tuesday night, when Israeli warplanes attacked three smuggling tunnels after Palestinian militants fired two Qassam rockets into Israel.
Xinhua reports that two Palestinian smugglers died when they tried to repair the damage from that attack. The work of smuggling is dangerous: Agence France-Presse reports that more than 120 Palestinians have been killed in the tunnels – by cave-ins or Israeli strikes – since 2007.
The tunnels have been used extensively to smuggle weapons, food, and other goods into Gaza from Egypt since Israel began a tough embargo on the coastal territory two years ago, when Hamas seized control of Gaza. Egypt has also closed its official border with Gaza, strangling its economy and leading to the rise of the lucrative tunnel business. (See a slideshow of tunnel smugglers here.)
The Christian Science Monitor reported in August that the tunnels contribute to Hamas's strength in Gaza. Israel's embargo is aimed at weakening the Islamist organization, but instead, Hamas has been able to consolidate power by becoming Gaza's key financial middleman, using its control of the smuggling tunnels, money changing, and tax revenue to buy up property in Gaza, reported the Monitor.
Hamas officials deny any formal initiative to buy property, or that the group is benefiting from the siege in any way.
But a blockade that prohibits importing everything but humanitarian items has made the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt a vital lifeline. While Israel considers the tunnels illegal, no one here does. Hamas levies a value-added tax of 14.5 percent on every item that comes through, local shop owners say….
According to Palestinian smugglers, Hamas taxes luxury items like cigarettes at higher rates and sometimes demands protection money for allowing their tunnels to be used.