December 18, 2007 / 11:06 AM / 11 years ago

Israel kills 13 Palestinian militants in Gaza

(Adds comments by Israeli defence minister, paragraph 5)

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Israel killed 13 Palestinian militants in air strikes in the Gaza Strip, its most deadly military response in months to frequent rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled territory.

Islamic Jihad, the group behind many of the rocket launchings that have been disrupting life in southern Israel, said four of its members were killed on Tuesday as they walked out of a mosque in the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza.

Hours earlier, air strikes killed seven Islamic Jihad militants, including a senior Gaza commander, prompting the group to threaten suicide bombings inside the Jewish state.

Israel has not been hit by a suicide bombing in 11 months, a respite that helped pave the way for renewed peace efforts with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who opposes such attacks.

"I hope these successes will continue," Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, referring to the air strikes, told reporters in Tel Aviv. "Having said that, we must take all precautions against possible retaliation from the other side."

In Paris, where he attended an international donors meeting that followed last month’s Annapolis peace conference, Abbas called on Israel to stop construction in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

He described the building work as "an obstacle that hampers negotiations".

Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon said construction was largely limited to settlement blocs Israel intended to keep in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

He said on Army Radio that "targeted killings" in the Gaza Strip help to curb cross-border rocket fire. Israel uses the term to describe attacks on top Palestinian militants.


In the southern Gaza Strip, an air strike killed two Hamas security men. The Israeli army said the attack was in response to mortar bombs fired earlier at southern Israel. It said gunmen also launched five rockets. No one was hurt on the Israeli side.

At a funeral for the Islamic Jihad fighters, gunmen fired in the air, accidentally severing a high-voltage power line. It fell on the crowd, killing one of the mourners and wounding seven others, medical officials said.

Palestinian officials said Majed al-Harazeen, one of the Islamic Jihad dead, was the most senior militant commander to be killed by Israel in the Gaza Strip in more than a year.

Broadcasting on a radio frequency used by Gaza militants, an Islamic Jihad official ordered fighters to turn off their mobile phones and remove their batteries to foil Israeli electronic tracking and to stay out of vehicles.

Rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip rarely cause injuries or deaths but residents of Israeli border towns have been pressing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to order a ground offensive.

Israeli officials have said a huge military push back into the Gaza Strip, which Israeli troops and settlers quit in 2005, could result in heavy Israeli and Palestinian casualties.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Olmert, said more than 2,000 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip in recent months. (Additional reporting by Wael al-Ahmed in Jenin, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Kerstin Gehmlich in Paris, Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Editing by Robert Woodward)

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