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Friday, January 30, 2009

Hamas resumes rocket strikes; Israel strikes back

GAZA CITY — Less than a week after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Hamas and its Palestinian militia allies have resumed missile strikes and roadside bombings against Israel. Israel's military has responded with air and ground strikes throughout the Gaza Strip.   

"As the sole authority in the Gaza Strip, Hamas bears full responsibility of all terror originating from within its area of control," the Israeli government said.

Officials said the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has decided to respond to Hamas missile and other strikes on Israel. They said the Israeli intelligence community would also increase efforts to track Iranian weapons ships to the Gaza Strip.

On Jan. 29, the Republic of Cyprus detained an Iranian-owned ship destined for Syria with weapons believed to have been ordered by Hamas and Hizbullah.

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On Jan. 29, Hamas fired several Kassam-class, short-range missiles into Israel. The missiles fell near the southern city of Sderot.

Hours earlier, an Israeli warplane struck a weapons production facility in the southern Gaza town of Rafah This marked the first Israeli attack on a building in the Gaza Strip since the unilateral Israeli ceasefire on Jan. 18.

"The Israel Defense Forces will respond to any terror attacks in accordance with decisions made by the Israeli government," the government said.

Officials said the military expects an escalation in missile and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he canceled a visit to the United States to plan for any renewed conflict with Hamas.

The Israel Air Force has focused its air strikes on Rafah, where Hamas operates an estimated 800 tunnels, some of them used to smuggle weapons from neighboring Egypt. On Jan. 29, a fire erupted in a tunnel and several Palestinians were said to have been killed or injured.

The military described one of its targets as a former Hamas officer who joined Al Qaida. The operative was identified as Mahmoud Samiri, 25, said to have been part of an improvised explosive device squad that killed an Israeli officer and injured three soldiers on Jan. 27.

"In addition, Samiri is known for taking part in the detonation of an explosive device that killed two Israel Defense Forces soldiers near Kisufim in March 2008," the military said.

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