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Gaza violence raises fears of new Israeli-Palestinian unrest

March 10, 2012 |  9:30 am


REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Renewed clashes between Israeli forces and Gaza Strip-based militants left 14 Palestinians dead and four Israelis injured over the weekend, heightening concerns about a resumption of unrest along the restive border.

After weeks of relative calm, the latest round of attacks began Friday after Israel launched an airstrike that killed a top commander and another fighter from the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group that Israel blamed for carrying out an attack in southern Israel last August.

Zuhair Mussah Ahmed Kaisi and Mahmud Ahmed Mahmud Hananni were killed as they drove in their car west of Gaza City on Friday afternoon. Kaisi had taken over after Israeli forces killed the group’s previous leader after the August attack.

Israeli officials said they believed Kaisi was preparing to carry out another attack, entering Israel through the Sinai desert.

Militants in Gaza quickly retaliated, firing more than 100 rockets and mortars at southern Israel Friday night and Saturday.

"The Zionist entity will pay a heavy price,” PRC spokesman Abu Mujahed said.

Most of the projectiles were deflected or landed without causing injury or damage. Four Israelis were wounded, one seriously, officials said. Residents of many southern Israeli cities spent the weekend inside or close to bomb shelters.

Israel’s missile-interception system, Iron Dome, destroyed 27 of the incoming rockets, military officials said.

The rocket barrage, one of the heaviest in years, led Israel to launch several airstrikes against squads of militants it believed responsible for the attacks.

Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group that has continued to fire rockets into southern Israel, said 12 of its members were killed by such strikes.

Israeli leaders called upon Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, to rein in the rival groups and bring an end to the rocket fire. Egyptian and Palestinian officials called upon Israel to exercise restraint.


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Photo: Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Friday. Credit: Ali Ali / EPA