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Israel Launches Wave of Air Strikes in Gaza

  • Robert Berger

Three Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air raids in the Gaza Strip. The violence erupted as Gaza's Islamist rulers face mounting pressure on two fronts.

Israel launched a wave of air strikes on Gaza, in retaliation for a Palestinian mortar barrage on a border terminal and the firing of a rocket. The army said warplanes hit smuggling tunnels in two areas and a weapons factory in Gaza City. It was the first air strike on the crowded city since the Gaza War a year ago.

Israel launched the three-week war to stop daily Palestinian rocket and mortar fire, and since then it has established new rules of deterrence: swift retaliation for any cross-border attack.

"If there is terrorist activity from Gaza into Israel, the Israeli public will demand of the Israeli government that we defend the citizens of Israel," said Israeli spokesman Mark Regev.

The bombing of the tunnels puts further pressure on the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas, which depends on smuggling from Egypt to bypass a crippling Israeli blockade. Before the war, there were about 3,000 tunnels used to smuggle weapons, gasoline, food and other goods into Gaza. Though most of the tunnels were destroyed in Israeli air strikes, nearly 400 are still operational and provide a lifeline to Hamas.

But now Hamas is being squeezed on another front. Egypt, which fears the growing Islamic militancy on its border, is building an underground wall to cut off the smuggling tunnels. Hamas has bitterly condemned the wall, and tensions soared after an Egyptian soldier was shot dead this week during a violent Palestinian protest.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is trying to mend fences with Gaza's powerful Arab neighbor.

Haniyeh called for an urgent meeting with Egyptian officials to discuss the construction of the wall. He urged the Cairo government to listen to the Egyptian people, who "support Palestine and lifting the siege on Gaza." But Egypt has sent a stern warning to Hamas that it will not tolerate further violence on the Gaza border.

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