Israeli aircraft hit Gaza in response to rockets

AP News
Posted: Mar 15, 2012 10:44 AM
Israeli aircraft hit Gaza in response to rockets

Israeli aircraft and Gaza rocket squads traded strikes across the border on Thursday as the Israeli prime minister blamed Iran for the violence from the Palestinian territory.

Benjamin Netanyahu, going a step further in his warnings to Iran, hinted that Israel didn't need Washington's blessing to go ahead and attack Iran's suspect nuclear program.

Thursday's cross-border violence tested a shaky truce Israel and Gaza militants reached earlier this week to halt a four-day flare in fighting. Since then, sporadic rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes have persisted.

Israeli aircraft struck two militant sites in Gaza before dawn Thursday in response to rocket fire a day earlier. Gaza gunmen retaliated by launching two rockets at Israel by midday, police said. No injuries were reported on either side.

In a speech to parliament on Wednesday, Netanyahu accused Iran of arming, financing and training Gaza militants, and giving them their marching orders.

"Gaza is Iran," Netanyahu declared.

Israel considers Iran to be its most fearsome enemy, in large part because it is convinced Tehran is developing atomic weapons technology, despite its claims its nuclear program is peaceful.

In the U.S. last week, where he met with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu was markedly more vocal about Israel's willingness to attack Iran's program, alone if necessary, though he said no decision had been made on whether to strike.

On Wednesday, he ratcheted up the tough talk, suggesting Israel would be ready to attack Iran's nuclear facilities even if the U.S. objected.

"Israel has never left its fate to others, not even the best of its friends," he said, citing Israel's 1981 attack on an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor, which at the time was condemned by the U.S.

Also Thursday, an Israeli soldier was stabbed on Jerusalem's light rail, and police apprehended a Palestinian suspect at a Jerusalem crossing into the West Bank, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. He had no further details on the suspect or a possible motive for the attack on the train, which went into service in August.

A hospital official said the soldier was in serious condition with stab wounds near her heart.

Train service was halted while a preliminary investigation at the scene of the attack was carried out, Rosenfeld said.

Also Thursday, rights activists said the health of a Palestinian detainee who has been on a hunger strike for a month is deteriorating. Hana Shalabi, 30, has refused food since her arrest by Israel on Feb. 16. She is being held without formal charges in so-called administrative detention and is demanding to be released immediately.

A doctor from Israel's branch of Physicians for Human Rights examined her earlier this week and reported advanced muscle atrophy and wasting, along with severe dizziness and muscle pain, especially in her chest and back.

Israel Prisons Authority spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said Shalabi's condition is "relatively okay." An independent ethics committee discussed her case this week and decided against force-feeding her, Weizman said. Shalabi remains in her cell, she added.

Palestinian officials said four more administrative detainees have launched hunger strikes since the beginning of March. The oldest in the group, 72-year-old Ahmed Haj Ali, a lawmaker from the Islamic militant Hamas, joined Wednesday, said Issa Karakeh, the Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs.

Karakeh said it's the first time hunger strikers are targeting a specific Israeli detention policy, adding that more prisoners plan to launch hunger strikes next month. More than 300 Palestinians are currently held without formal charges. In all, more than 6,000 Palestinians are being held by Israel for security-related offenses.

Israel has defended administrative detentions as a necessary tool to stop militant activity.

Rights activists say international law allows this practice only in exceptional cases and that Israel blatantly violates these restrictions.


Associated Press writer Dalia Nammari in Ramallah, West Bank contributed reporting.