Ministers Urge Action as Gaza Rocket Downed Over Beersheba

Israeli aircraft struck 10 targets in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave that reached its deepest inside Israel in 20 months, the military said. Some Israeli ministers demanded a stronger response.

Concealed rocket launchers and a weapon manufacturing facility were among the sites hit, the military said in an e-mailed statement. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Hamas militant movement that controls Gaza, said by e-mail that while contacts continue, a truce to end three weeks of violence isn’t imminent.

The escalation along the Israel-Gaza border has intensified frictions over the killing of teenagers on both sides of the conflict, which boiled over into a weekend of unrest in east Jerusalem and Arab communities in Israel.

Israeli ministers urged a stronger response to the rocket attacks after one was directed at Beersheba, Israel’s largest southern city. The army said that was the first time the city of about 200,000 had been targeted since an Israeli military offensive against Gaza militants in November 2012. The rocket was intercepted, military officials said.

“We must respond to fire on Beersheba in the same way we respond to fire on Tel Aviv,” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “I don’t accept the statement that there is no way to stop the missiles.”

Rocket Barrages

About 136 rockets and mortars have hit Israel and 21 more intercepted since three Israeli youths were abducted on June 12 and killed. Israel, which blames Hamas for their deaths, has responded with dozens of air strikes on Gaza and arrested hundreds of Islamist group’s activists in the West Bank. At least 10 Palestinians have died in the violence.

“We need to set a border and separate from Gaza,” Transport Minister Israel Katz said on Channel Two yesterday. “We need to announce that from a certain date there will be no more fuel, electricity, water or food. There is no logic in Israel supplying its enemy.”

Katz called for Israel to renew assassinations of Hamas leaders.

The latest round of violence erupted after the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks in April and the formation of a Hamas-backed Palestinian government in June. Touching it off was the June 12 abduction of three Israeli students whose bodies were found in the West Bank on June 30. Sky News Arabia today reported the arrest of a suspect in the case; Israeli police wouldn’t comment, citing a gag order.

Violent Protesters

Rocket fire from Gaza intensified shortly after the Israeli military began rounding up hundreds of alleged West Bank militants in the search for the students’ killers. Violence spilled over into Jerusalem with the July 2 killing of the Palestinian teenager, Mohamed Abu Khdeir, whose burned body was found in a city park in what Palestinians, without providing evidence, say was a revenge attack for the deaths of the Israelis.

The teenager’s burial and the Palestinian attorney general’s assertion that he had been burned alive touched off a weekend of clashes between protesters and police that spread to Israeli Arab communities and the West Bank.

Protesters set tires ablaze and hurled rocks, firecrackers and firebombs at police, who responded with stun grenades and other non-lethal measures, police said. About 60 people were arrested, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Soot was found in the teenager’s lungs and burns varying from first to fourth degree covered 90 percent of his body, Palestinian Attorney General Muhammad Abd al-Ghani Uweili, citing the preliminary autopsy report, said in a statement on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa yesterday. The autopsy was carried out at Israel’s Abu Kabir Forensic Institute.

Gag Order

Israeli police declined to comment on the unpublished autopsy results and the investigation, citing a gag order. They said they are still investigating whether the killing of the Palestinian teenager was politically or criminally motivated.

A video of what appears to an Israeli border police officer beating a Palestinian youth in east Jerusalem further fanned the escalation yesterday. Ynet said the 15-year-old, a cousin of Khdeir, is from the U.S. and was visiting relatives. Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said a U.S. citizen was arrested in Jerusalem.

“We are profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force,” she said in an e-mailed statement, calling on all sides “to take steps to restore calm.”

The Justice Ministry said it was investigating the incident.

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