Five Islamic Jihad militants were killed Saturday in an Israeli airstrike near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, including a senior rocket-maker, Palestinian sources said. Israeli media reported that the cell targeted was responsible for launching a rocket into Israel recently, but the army said the strike was not in retaliation but was instead preventative.
A few hours later, a barrage of rockets began hitting southern Israel, some making direct hits on residential buildings and setting cars and property on fire. One rocket landed in a school in the city of Ashdod that was closed for the Sabbath. A number of injured Israelis were taken to hospitals for treatment.
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Speaking at a news conference in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel was not looking for a confrontation with the Palestinians but that it would "not take one barrage after the other without response."
The Israeli armed forces will not tolerate any attempt to harm civilians or soldiers and will "continue to operate with strength and determination against anyone who uses terror against the State of Israel," said an army statement Saturday.
Saturday's incidents came after a prisoner exchange deal struck between Hamas and Israel that saw Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit freed in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Some in Israel, such as opposition leader Tzippi Livni, warned that the deal would bolster Hamas. In a statement Saturday, Livni urged Israel to weaken "radical terror elements" such as those behind the rocket attacks directly as well as through a "diplomatic process with the moderate elements who do not employ violence."
-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem and Rushdi Abu Alouf in Gaza
Photo: Charred cars remain after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the Israeli city of Ashdod on Saturday. Credit: Nir Elias / Reuters