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Israel bombed two targets in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, wounding about 15 Palestinians, after several mortars were launched into Israel Tuesday from the coastal enclave. There were no reported Israeli casualties.
The Israeli army said it targeted smuggling tunnels that run beneath the wall separating Gaza from Israel. The army said militant Islamic group Hamas used the tunnels to cross into Israel and carry out terrorist attacks
The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reports that the one of the strikes hit a training compound for Hamas’s military wing, Al Qassam Brigades, in Gaza's northern city of Bayt Hanun. The second strike was in southern Gaza, where Israeli F-16s launched missiles at an unused airport near Rafah. Some of the wounded reportedly sustained critical injuries. CNN, which reports 17 wounded, also reports that five of the wounded were militants.
The BBC reports that the air strikes also came after a donkey cart full of dynamite exploded near the barrier between Israel and Gaza. According to the BBC, the explosion was meant to blow a hole in the concrete divider.
A militant Palestinian group “that identifies with Al Qaeda” said it had launched the mortars into Israel Tuesday, according to Reuters. Gaza is ruled by Hamas, which has called for a halt on rocket attacks on Israel. But as The Christian Science Monitor reported, Hamas is having an increasingly difficult time controlling the more radical groups in the territory, which believe that Hamas is too moderate and has “sold out” by calling for a halt to rocket fire. Israel holds Hamas responsible for the rocket fire from the Strip, even when it comes from different militant groups.
Hamas is also facing pressure on another front. The Monitor reports Hamas is suffering from a financial crisis after three years of an Israeli blockade. Hamas has not paid full salaries to its civilian and security employees in two months, and has been forced to take the unpopular move of raising taxes.
Since coming to power in 2006 elections, Hamas had until now maintained a steady cash flow. It profited from the smuggling of black-market goods through tunnels under the Gazan-Egyptian border – tunnels also used to bring in suitcases of foreign currency. It has also transferred funds through money-changers outside Gaza, but controls have tightened.
"The Egyptian authorities have recently been monitoring and cracking down on financial transactions between Egypt and Gaza, through money-changers and other avenues," says Gaza-based political analyst Mkhaimar Abusaada.
Meanwhile, activists from Europe are attempting to break the Israeli blockade and bring aid to Gaza by ship, but may not get through the Israeli military. The Israeli news website Ynet reports that an Israeli Defense Force commander called the eight ships sailing toward Gaza a “provocation.”
"The sail is a provocative act that is unnecessary in light of the figures, which indicate that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is good and stable," [Colonel Moshe Levi, commander of the Gaza District Coordination Office] said, adding that Israel allows the transfer of many products to the Strip, apart from those which may be used by Hamas for terror-related activities.
IRIN, a news network focusing on humanitarian issues associated with the UN, reports that scores of smaller vessels carrying activists are also a part of the floating convoy, which is carrying humanitarian aid in the form of building supplies, medical equipment, and medicine. Much of Gaza has yet to be rebuilt after Israel’s offensive there more than a year ago because Israel prohibits most building supplies from entering Gaza.
Hamas refused to be a part of the so-called indirect "proximity talks" that began last week, with US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah to meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The talks were seen as a small victory for US President Barack Obama, who is slated to meet with Mr. Netanyahu next week at the White House.
Hamas and many other Palestinian groups have voiced their rejection of indirect talks. Hamas described the notion as absurd and argued that the move would only legitimize Israel's occupation and will be used as cover for its land confiscations, settlement expansion and other aggressive measures against the Palestinian people. The PLO argues that the move serves the Palestinian national interest and shows its willingness to reach a negotiated peace with Israel on the basis of the two-state solution. Hamas simply says the PLO should "stop selling illusions to the Palestinian people."
Separately, Agence France-Presse offers a video report on the Israeli army's May 25 reopening of Route 443 to Palestinians. The Israeli courts ruled in December that Palestinians should be allowed, along with Israelis, to use the road, which links Jerusalem with Tel Aviv.