Friday, April 8, 2011

Israel foils Gaza rocket attack for first time

Iron Dome anti-rocket interceptor

Israel's Iron Dome anti-rocket system on Thursday afternoon shot down two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, reported local daily Ha'aretz.

This is the first time that the system has successfully intercepted projectiles in real-combat. The rockets were fired at the southern city of Ashkelon, where a battery of the Iron Dome was deployed on Monday.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman's unit were not able to comment on the incident in response to Xinhua inquiry.

Southern Israel has witnessed a flare-up of violence on Thursday afternoon. An anti-tank missile fired by Gaza militants hit an Israeli school bus traveling in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, seriously wounding a teenager.

Katyusha rockets


Development of Iron Dome, which tracks and blows up projectiles in mid-air, began in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon war, during which an estimated 4,000 Katyusha rockets and mortars showered northern Israel.

 The system, which intercepts rockets at ranges of 5 to 70 km, was developed in record-time: about three years from the drawing board to deployment. A battery includes three launchers with 20 missiles each.

Before deployed in Ashkelon, an Iron Dome battery was set up on March 27 at the northern outskirts of Beer Sheva, a desert city hit by three Grad-type rockets fired by Gaza militants last month.

As a retaliation to the attack, Israeli warplanes pounded targets in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, killing six people a day after armed groups said they would observe a truce.

Since then, Israel has launched more than 20 raids on targets across the enclave, which by noon today, gaza time had killed 11 Gazans -- six civilians, four Hamas militants and one policeman. Around 45 people have been wounded.

In the wake of the strikes, the self-declared truce called by Hamas appeared to be unraveling, with the Islamist group's military wing announcing that they had fired six rockets and three mortar rounds into Israel from east of Rafah in southern Gaza.

Israeli media said they landed on open ground without causing casualties or damage.

Two of Friday's deadliest strikes took place around the southern city of Khan Yunis, with one killing two Hamas militants just east of the city.

A second hit a group of civilians slightly farther north, killing a man in his 50s and a woman and her 21-year-old daughter, medics said.

Four others were wounded in that raid, including an 18-year-old girl who was in serious condition.

The Israeli military said it had targeted "two terrorist squads at the launch sites" and expressed regret for harming civilian bystanders.

However, a military statement blamed Hamas for choosing "to operate from within its civilian population, using it as a human shield."

Another missile strike killed a man near the northern town of Beit Lahiya, said rescue services spokesman Adham Abu Selmiya.

Hamas said the man was a local field commander of its armed wing. Witnesses had reported seeing several men trying to fire a rocket from the area.

Six hours after Thursday's bus attack, Gaza Hamas leaders hurriedly announced a fresh truce in the hope of possibly curbing Israel's response, but apparently to no avail.

Speaking in Prague late on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would "not shy away from taking all necessary action, offensive and defensive, to protect our country and its citizens."

It appeared Friday's air strikes would scupper the truce announced overnight, which Hamas said had been accepted by "most of the factions."

Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said in a brief statement on Friday that the morning air strike had killed two of its militants but made no mention of taking revenge.

But several hours later, it claimed the rocket and mortar attacks.

Aside from the anti-tank missile, militants on Thursday lobbed more than 50 mortar rounds at Israel, one of which hit a house.

Fifteen more were fired on Friday, police and media reports said.

The bus attack was the first time an anti-tank missile had hit a civilian target in Israel, and was seen by the Jewish state as a worrying escalation.

Hamas said it was in revenge for three of its operatives killed in an air strike on Saturday, which the army said targeted militants planning to kidnap Israelis from Sinai during the upcoming Passover holiday.

The use of the Russian-made Kornet-type missile against the school bus was viewed as a bid to deter Israel and re-establish a "balance of terror," a defence source told the Haaretz newspaper.

The bus attack drew strong condemnation from Washington, Europe and the United Nations.

As the dust settled after a day of attacks and counter strikes, both sides were mulling their options, aware that the escalating violence could rapidly deteriorate into all-out war.

Over the past month, scores of rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel, but its reaction has notably been restrained, with both sides aware of the looming threat of another crushing military offensive to stamp out rocket fire.

In December 2008, Israel mounted a devastating 22-day offensive on Gaza that claimed the lives of some 1,400 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.

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