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Gazans wounded in Israeli strike

At least 11 people have been injured in an Israeli air strike at an airport in southern Gaza, Palestinian medical officials and witnesses said.

The strike targeted Gaza’s defunct international airport, located near the town of Rafah, late on Friday, witnesses said.

The Israeli army told Al Jazeera that the attack targeted “a terror site” and said its pilots confirmed that the target was hit.

It also confirmed that it hit two smuggling tunnels and a weapons manufacturing site  in another strike 24 hours earlier.

Al Jazeera’s Casey Kauffman, reporting from Gaza, said Israel called the strike a reaction to rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel a day earlier.

“It’s the second night of attacks in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

“The Israelis say it is in retaliation for the rocket attack, but … the group that claimed responsibility for the attack [on Israel] says [the rocket attack] is in reaction to what’s perceived as [Israeli] aggression and provocation in the West Bank.”

Fierce clashes

The two days of strikes come amid the backdrop of clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli police in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestinians on Friday fought running battles with Israeli police in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, the latest clashes since Israel announced the construction of 1,600 new homesin East Jerusalem.

Israeli security forces used tear gas against hundreds of stone-throwing Palestinian protesters following Friday prayers in Hebron.

Al Jazeera’s Nour Odeh, reporting from Hebron, said heightened tensions throughout the past week have erupted into open confrontation.

“The situation has quietened down, but there were fierce clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers,” she said.

“The amount of tear gas used in the city is just quite unbelievable and a dozen injuries have been reported in the occupied West Bank.”

There were similar altercations at Bilin and Nilin, sites of weekly Palestinian protests against Israel’s West Bank “security barrier”.

Hebron is home to about 160,000 Muslims, but some 500 Israelis and Jews live in a small settlement in the centre of the city, with a heavy Israeli security detail.

There were also skirmishes in East Jerusalem as Israeli police were also on high alert in Jerusalem where they prevented men under the age of 50 from entering the al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said prayers at the compound passed without incident and Jerusalem was generally calm.

“A lot of people are angry at what is taking place in Hebron and are coming out to show solidarity,” Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, said.

“It is all of course mounting tension over what Palestinians here see as a restriction of their basic rights.”

Charged atmosphere

An already charged atmosphere intensified this week as a rebuilt 17th-century synagogue was opened in the Jewish quarter of the Old City, a few hundred metres from the compound.

Many Palestinians view Israeli projects near the mosque compound – a site holy both to Jews and Muslims – as an assault on its status quo or a prelude to the building of a third Jewish temple there.

Israel had sealed off the West Bank following previous clashes at the East Jerusalem site known to Muslims as the al-Aqsa mosque compound and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Clashes at the same site in September 2000 triggered a wave of unrest in the Palestinian territories that became known as the “Second Intifada [uprising]“.

The latest violence had led some in the region to speak of the possibility of a “Third Intifada”.

Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Fatah official, said on Friday the party “does not seek a third intifada,” after continuing unrest in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But he also warned that the Palestinian people “have the right and the duty to defend themselves and the Islamic holy sites”.

The unrest comes as the international Quartet of Middle East peace mediators- an informal group including the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia – called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity.

At least 14 wounded in IAF missile strike on Gaza
By News Agencies

Israeli F16 warplanes carried out two successive airstrikes on the southern Gaza Strip on Friday night, wounding at least 14 people, in response to earlier rocket attacks, witnesses and medics said.

The witnesses said Israeli warplanes targeted the inoperative Gaza airport east of the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah. After a short while, Israeli warplanes struck two smuggling tunnels under the Gaza
Strip-Egypt borders.

Friday’s airstrikes came after militants fired five rockets at Israel in 24 hours, one of them killing a Thai worker near the southern city of Ashkelon.

Medics at Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah town said that at least 12 Palestinians were injured, two of them seriously, in the second airstrike that targeted the two tunnels.

Both Israeli and Hamas officials confirmed the strikes.

Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom had said on Thursday Israel would make a strong response to what was the first deadly rocket fire from Hamas-ruled Gaza at Israel in more than a year.

Israel also sent a letter of complaint to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is due to visit Israel at the weekend, and the UN Security Council.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev urged Ban to call for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Gaza militants in 2006. Hamas has demanded Israel free hundreds of the thousands of militants in its jails in exchange for the soldier.

A previously unknown group, Ansar al-Sunna, believed to share the hardline ideology of al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire at Israel, as well as the Al-Aqsa Martrys Brigades, a wing of the mainstream Fatah movement.

Gaza airport was built in 1999 with German and Spanish donations as well as loans from Arab Bank in Egypt but became inoperative after the Palestinian Intifada erupted against Israel in September 2000.

Since then, Israeli warplanes and tanks have destroyed many of the airport buildings as well as the runway, with most of the damage inflicted during last winter’s 22-day Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier on Friday in the predawn hours, Israeli planes carried out six successive airstrikes on different targets in the Gaza Strip, including a metal workshop in Gaza City and smuggling tunnels in southern Gaza Strip.

Hamas Islamists, who took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, had been urging other militant groups not to strike Israel, voicing concern about possible Israeli retaliation.

Palestinian militants in Gaza have carried out sporadic rocket and mortar bomb attacks on Israel since the end of a three-week Gaza war in January 2009, in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed, usually without causing any casualties.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said that more than 330 rockets have been fired from Gaza since the war. “We will continue to act against anyone who executes terror attacks against Israel,” he said, reading a prepared statement.

Israel has responded to rocket fire from Gaza since the war last year. But air strikes are often tempered to avoid casualties, as a signal to Hamas that Israel holds it responsible while remaining aware that it is not behind the rocket fire, and to avoid the appearance of disrupting
U.S.-backed diplomacy in the region.

The latest air strikes took place the day of a meeting of Quartet Middle East power mediators in Moscow and just before a planned visit by U.S. envoy George Mitchell, who is seeking to relaunch moribund peace talks in the region.