Israel strikes Gaza smuggling tunnel after rocket attack

An Israel airstrike early Monday morning targeted a smuggling tunnel in Gaza in retaliation for a militant rocket attack on Israel.

Hatem Moussa/AP
Palestinians examined the damage in a metal workshop destroyed in an Israeli airstrike early Friday in Gaza City. Israeli planes launched an airstrike on smuggling tunnels in Gaza early Monday in response to a rocket attack on Sunday.

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Israeli planes launched an airstrike on smuggling tunnels in Gaza early Monday in response to a rocket attack from the territory on Sunday.

The attacks come following a week that saw increased Palestinian rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes after Israel announced new settlement construction in the occupied territories.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Monday's predawn Israeli attack into Gaza followed a Qassam rocket attack on Israel. The Qassam, which hit a field and did not cause any injuries, followed several Israeli attacks on Gaza over the past week that wounded dozens.

Al Jazeera reports that no one was injured in Monday’s airstrike, which hit a tunnel the Israeli military said was used for arms smuggling. Because of Israel’s nearly three-year-old economic embargo of the territory, Gazans import most of their goods through tunnels underneath the border with Egypt. Tunnel owners operate with relative impunity, importing the goods that keep the Gaza Strip going, ranging from basic supplies like food to animals and weapons for militants. Israel frequently bombs the tunnels in retaliation for Palestinian attacks.

The tunnels are controversial among Gazans, however, with some saying unbridled tunnel trade has not always been a boon for Gaza's 1.5 million people, The Christian Science Monitor reported last month.

The increase in rocket attacks last week came after a year of relative calm following Israel’s offensive in Gaza in January 2009. Haaretz reports that four rockets were fired at communities in the Negev over the weekend, after 12 attacks were launched last week. One attack on Friday killed a Thai migrant worker in Israel, near Ashkelon, the first fatality from a rocket attack since last year’s war. The Israeli air force responded with airstrikes in Gaza on Friday, wounding at least 14 people.

The Christian Science Monitor reported Friday that Hamas has experienced trouble stopping rocket attacks from the territory, which are launched by local militant groups that protest Hamas’s de facto cease-fire. Hamas ordered local militant groups in November not to launch any attacks to give the territory time to rebuild, but is experiencing trouble enforcing that ban. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks launched from the territory.

“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.”

Hamas's inability to stop these groups from launching attacks highlights its weakened grip on power in the face of extremists who charge Hamas with being too moderate. Last fall, Hamas killed about 30 members of such a group, the Jund Ansar Allah (Army of God), in a gunbattle after its leader declared an Islamic emirate in Gaza, the Monitor reported.

It was the first time an Al Qaeda-inspired group had directly challenged Hamas' rule in the Gaza Strip but it may not be the last. Fueled by the failure of Hamas to address the area's growing poverty and isolation, and Hamas' relative recent restraint in its confrontation with Israel, analysts say such organizations are growing in the territory.

During a visit to the Gaza Strip on Sunday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon told Palestinians living under an Israeli blockade that the “[United Nations] stands with you.”

Editor’s note: The original version of this article misidentified who was hurt in the rocket attacks.

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