GAZA, March 22 (Xinhua) — Tension between Israel and the Palestinians mounted Tuesday after Israeli artillery shelling killed seven people, including three children, and wounded 10 others in response to Gaza militants’ homemade rocket attacks on southern Israeli communities.
The Israeli artillery fired six tank shells Tuesday afternoon at a house and a soccer playground in Sheja’eya neighborhood in eastern Gaza City, killing four, including three children and an old man, and wounding 10 others, Palestinian medics and witnesses told Xinhua.
Adham Abu Selmeya, spokesman of Gaza emergency services in the Islamic Hamas movement’s ministry of health, confirmed that the Israeli tanks targeted civilian facilities and all the casualties were civilians.
“This is an awful massacre committed against women and children, ” Abu Selmeya told a news conference at Shiffa Hospital in Gaza City, adding that four of the 10 wounded are in serious conditions and one is in clinical death.
“Severe damages were caused to the houses in the area,” he said, adding that “this awful crime had increased the death toll within the last three days to six people, in addition to 38 others who were wounded.”
Later on Tuesday evening, an Israeli war jet hit a group of Islamic Jihad militants with missiles when the they were trying to launch rockets from eastern Gaza City. Abu Selmeya confirmed that three militants were killed in the airstrike.
Meanwhile, al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas movement’ armed wing, vowed revenge for what it described as the Israeli military escalation against civilians. Al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida said the group would be committed to calm as long as Israel is committed to it.
“We are studying the situation and we are evaluating it, but the occupation will pay a heavy price for its ongoing crimes committed against the Palestinian people,” said Abu Obeida.
Hamas routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ security forces and seized control of the Gaza Strip by force in June 2007.
Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, said the attack on Tuesday “is an Israeli message of terrorism that will never break Hamas determination to keep struggling and defending its people.”
“Israel will never enjoy calm as long as the Palestinians are not enjoying it,” he said.
Dawood Shihab, a spokesman of the Islamic Jihad movement, called for response to the ongoing Israeli military escalation ” against our people,” adding that “Israel is sending a political message that it wants to control the situation, mix the papers and prevent Palestinian reconciliation.”
“I call on the Palestinian rivals to reconcile and end their division, regain unity and focus on armed resistance against the enemy. The status of (lacking) calm that was going on had given Israel the opportunity to prepare for a larger offensive against the Palestinians and their resistance powers,” said Shihab.
Spokesman of the deposed government of Hamas Taher al-Nouno said in a press statement that “the Israeli crimes are committed while countries in the whole region, mainly in the Arab world, are busy with their internal affairs,” adding that “We had warned that Israel would escalate violence in the area.”
“Israel has been intending to escalate violence in the area after it knew that the Palestinian political powers and factions are exerting efforts to achieve a national reconciliation and end the current division. Israel is escalating violence to protect its interests and get out of its political crisis,” said al-Nouno.
He went on saying that “the Israeli escalation would never force us to give political concessions and would never lead to changes in the internal political map of the Palestinian area. The occupation will certainly fail to break the determination of the Palestinian people.”
Since last week, violence has escalated between Israel and Gaza militants, mainly Hamas movement’s armed wing. The escalation began last Wednesday when two Hamas militants were killed in an Israeli airstrike in central Gaza Strip.
On Saturday, Hamas armed wing and other minor armed groups loyal to Hamas fired around 49 mortar shells from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel. Israeli war jets carried out around 14 airstrikes overnight Monday on targets belonging to Hamas and other militant groups, injuring 19 people.
The escalation of violence came shortly after the Palestinian President Abbas and the prime minister of Hamas government Ismail Haneya announced their readiness to meet in Gaza and end internal division that has lasted for more than three years.