A Gaza sniper shot dead an Israeli civilian over the border on Tuesday, December 24, and Israel hit back with air strikes on two Hamas training camps which hospital officials said killed a Palestinian girl near one of the targets.
The Israeli man, 22-year-old Salah Abu-Latif of Rahat, was a civilian IDF employee who was working on repairs to the Gaza security fence. The IDF views the incident as particularly serious due to the fact that Latif was murdered in Israeli territory, the commander said.
His death, which drew a swift threat of retaliation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, came amid heightened tensions after two suspected Palestinian attacks – a bus bombing near Tel Aviv on Sunday that caused no casualties and the wounding of an Israeli policeman in a stabbing on Monday.
Officials from Hamas, the Islamic group which rules Gaza, and witnesses said Israeli aircraft bombed the group’s training camps in Khan Younis and al-Bureij. Witnesses said Israeli tanks fired shells east of Gaza city.
Gaza hospital officials said a girl, whom they estimated was two-years-old, was killed by shrapnel during the Israeli strike on the Bureij facility.
She was standing with other family members outside their home near the camp and two of her brothers were wounded, the officials said.
Earlier, a Palestinian was killed in a separate incident in northern Gaza, hospital officials said. An Israeli military spokeswoman said he was handling an explosive device near the security fence and that soldiers fired at him after warnings.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the sniper attack, which followed a Palestinian rocket strike on southern Israel on Sunday that caused no casualties.
“This is an extremely grave incident and we will not ignore it,” said Netanyahu, who was visiting the southern town of Sderot, about a kilometer [half a mile] from the Gaza border, at the time of the shooting.
“Our policy has been to thwart [Palestinian attacks] and to respond [to them] forcefully, and that is what we will do in this case,” he said, referring to the shooting, in a statement released by his office.
No one was hurt in Sunday’s bomb blast on the bus, which had been evacuated after the explosives were spotted, and the wounded policeman was expected to recover.
But the incidents, which Israel blamed on Palestinian militants, fuelled concerns of a new Palestinian uprising as peace talks show few signs of progress.
Hamas praised Sunday’s bus bombing – the first in Israel in more than a year – but stopped short of claiming responsibility.
Violence in the West Bank has increased in recent months. At least 19 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed there since the U.S.-brokered talks on Palestinian statehood resumed in July after a three-year break.
A senior IDF commander spoke Tuesday evening about the fatal terrorist shooting near Gaza and of the targets of the IDF’s response. “The targets we attacked belong to the Islamic Jihad and Hamas,” the commander said.
“We are considering our next steps,” said the commander. The IDF “is extremely prepared for any scenario that develops,” he declared.
The last major counter-terror operation in Gaza was Operation Pillar of Defense (Amud Anan) in late 2012. Pillar of Defense followed a massive rocket barrage on Israeli civilian communities, coupled with attacks on IDF soldiers within Israel.
Following Tuesday’s violence, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon stressed that Israel held Gaza’s Islamist rulers responsible for violence emanating from the territory under its control.
“In Gaza, Hamas is ruler, and we hold it responsible for the shooting today from the (Gaza) Strip and the rocket launches in the past two days at Israel,” he said
“I advise Hamas to not test our patience,” he said in a statement, warning that “If there won’t be quiet in Israel, there won’t be quiet in Gaza either.”
Meanwhile, a statement from Hamas, which does not recognize Israel and is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state, declared that “the occupier and its raids will not deter or stop the resistance.”
Tuesday’s violence caps five days of terrorist attacks, beginning with clashes between IDF forces and Gaza-based terrorists on Friday and Saturday.