Rocket Fire from Gaza Kills Man in Southern Israel

Rocket Blast Kills Man

A rocket from inside the Gaza Strip has exploded in a kibbutz in southern Israel, killing one person. The rocket was fired less than an hour after EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton crossed into the Palestinian territory on an official visit.

The rocket tore into a plastic-covered hothouse in the Israeli commiunity of Netlv Ha’asara. Manee Singueanphon, who is in his 30s, is reported to be a farm worker from Thailand who was killed by a shrapnel as he stood in a greenhouse.

The kibbutz, Netiv Haasara, runs parallel with the fence of the Gaza Strip. The village is close to the Erez crossing and only a few hundred metres from the Gaza border fence. It is the closest Israeli settlement to the border with the Gaza Strip and is situated next to a military base.

Soon after the attack, Hamas evacuated its security facilities, fearing retaliation by the Israeli military.

An army spokesman told Israel Army Radio it was the third rocket of the day from Gaza in a 12-hour stretch. There was no immediate Israeli retaliation.

The Suspects

A small, fiercely anti-Western jihadist group that challenges Hamas, a calling after Ansar al-Sunna, sent an email to reporters straight after the attack claiming they launched the rocket.

In the statement, the group said the attack was a response to Israel’s “Judaization” of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank. (CBC

“The Jihadist mission came in response to the Zionist assaults against the lbrahimi and al-Aqsa mosques and the continued Zionist aggression against our people in Jerusalem,” they said in the statement.

Israel angered Palestinians by rededicating an 18th-century synagogue this week in Jerusalem, some 400 metres from al-Aqsa, and announcing a plan to renovate holy sites in the West Bank town of Hebron, holy to Muslims and Jews.

Hamas avoided praising the rocket attack but steered clear of comments that could be seen by Palestinians in the Israeli-blocakded Gaza Strip as disapproving of the strike. “The government of the Zionist enemy, which has launched a war against the Palestinian people and against holy sites and al-Aqsa mosque, bears the responsibility for all the escalation,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said. (Reuters)

It is thought that they are one of several small Salafist groups in Gaza believed to be inspired by al-Qaeda.

But a second group, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade – linked to the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – also later claimed the responsibility.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton Visits Gaza

Thursday’s attack came on the same day as a visit to Gaza by Europe’s top diplomat, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who had just crossed into the territory when the rocket was fired. She told reports in Gaza that she had come to the region to “talk with people and politicians about the need to find a picture of peace and security.” (New York Times)

“I condemn any kind of violence. We have got to find a peaceful solution to the issues and problems,” she said. (CBC)

Later, in a statement, Ms. Ashton said that she was “extremely shocked by the rocket attack and the tragic loss of life.” (New York Times)

Ashton was touring Gaza to get a firsthand look at the hardships caused by the war and by a punishing Israeli-Egyptian border blockade that has been in place since Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007. Ms. Ashton’s convoy drove without stopping through areas of northern Gaza that were devastated during the three-week war. Unlike other Western officials who have visited Gaza, she did not call for a lifting of the economic blockade that affects the population of 1.5 million, saying only that she was “trying to support the aid that needs to find its way through to Gaza.” (New York Times)

“What we have been saying to the Israelis for a long time is that we need to allow aid into this region, to be able to support the economy to grow for people to have the things they are clearly lacking,” she told reporters. (The Globe and Mail)

Filippo Grandi, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides assistance for Palestinian refugees, said, “We told Baroness Ashton that we count on her to be the messenger for the suffering of Gazans under blockade.” (New York Times)

After her Gaza visit, Ashton is to attend a major Mideast meeting of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators – the United States, the United Nations, Europe and Russia – in Moscow on Friday.

The European Union, like the United States and Israel, classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, and Ms. Ashton was not planning to meet with Hamas representatives in in Gaza. She visited a United Nations-run school and met with United Nations officials to learn about humanitarian efforts for the Palestinian population. She was also scheduled to meet with local business and civil society leaders.

Ms. Ashton met earlier with Israeli officials, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank ahead of meeting a quartet representatives that she was expected to attend on Friday in Moscow.

Rocket Fire in Israel

Gaza, a Palestinian coastal enclave, has remained largely isolated since it came under the control of Hamas, which has refused to accept the conditions set by the Quartet of Mideast mediators. The conditions include renouncing violence, recognizing Israel’s right to exist and accepting previous signed agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Israel and Egypt have imposed a strict economic embargo on the area, allowing only basic supplies.

With the standoff continuing, Gaza’s 1.5 million people are becoming increasingly dependent on foreign aid. Europe spends some $688-million a year – or half its annual aid to the Palestinians – to help keep Gaza afloat.

Thousands of crude rockets launched from Gaza at Israel over a seven-year period sparked the Israeli military’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip. The brief war devastated the Palestinian territory, killing 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis, among them three civilians, were killed.

The man is the first person to be killed by rocket fire in southern Israel since the Israeli campaign in Gaza last year. Over the same period, 88 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in a mixture of Israeli military operations and border clashes, according to the United Nations.

Rocket fire into Israel has continued since the end of Operation Cast Lead, but there has been less than before the incursion.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the attack. “All such acts of terror and violence against civilians are totally unacceptable and contrary to international law,” he said in a statement. (CBC)

Israeli Warning

“This is a crossing of the red line, which Israel cannot accept. The Israeli response will be appropriate. It will be strong,” Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters. (Reuters)

Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said Israel held Hamas responsible for any cross-border attacks because the group controlled the Gaza Strip. “Israel is not interested in a military confrontation but will not allow its citizens to be attacked,” Vilnai said. (Reuters)

Also on Thursday, the United States Treasury said it was imposing sanctions on Gaza bank and the Al Aksa television station because they are controlled by Hamas. The Islamic National Bank of Gaza provided financial services to Hamas members and employees, including members of the organization’s military wing, the Treasury said in a statement. The television station, it said, “airs programs and music videos designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood.” (New York Times)

The sanctions call for any assets held by the bank and the television station under American jurisdiction to be frozen, and for Americans to be prohibited from engaging in any transactions with the two parties.

Mohammed Abu Thraya, deputy director of the al-Aqsa station called on world media outlets to condemn what he called an assault by Israel and the U.S. against “free media”. (Reuters)

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