JERUSALEM (EJP) --- An Israeli army officer was severely wounded Tuesday while on a routine patrol along the Gaza Strip-Israel border fence, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) said.
Army officials said an explosion was heard in the vicinity of the patrol but it was not clear whether it was a roadside bomb or a mortar shell.
On Wednesday, the IDF announced it had responded to a deluge of rocket fire on Southern Israel from Gaza overnight by targeting terrorist targets and rocket)launching sites in the Strip.
The news came after it confirmed over 65 rockets had been launched at Israel during an 8 hour period Tuesday night. Three civilian foreign workers were injured in the Gaza rocket attacks Wednesday morning, after residential areas in the Eshkol region were hit. The injured, two of whom are thought to be in critical condition, were transferred to a nearby hospital.
Also during the night, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) foiled four rocket attacks when it hit two suspected terror cells in the northern Gaza Strip “during their final preparations to fire rockets towards southern Israel”, revealed the IDF statement, as well as successfully targeting a third cell Wednesday morning.
In an apparent rebuff of recent claims by Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah of the inefficacy of Israel’s much-touted Iron Dome anti-missile defence system, the IDF also revealed it had “successfully intercepting seven rockets headed towards densely populated areas, saving lives in the process”.
As the IDF repeated its claims that the internationally-outlawed Hamas group, which seized politically control of the region from the then-ruling Fatah party in 2007 “is solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip”, an official statement by Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees said “these holy missions come in response to the repeated, continuous crimes of the enemy against our people, which killed four and injured 10 in the past 48 hours.”
The attacks closely followed Netanyahu’s meeting with Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair, when he insisted that Hamas isn’t “going to get away” with attacking Israeli civilians.
"We attacked them before, we attacked them after and we're going to prevent them from arming themselves. This is our policy," he said.
He also told the Bulgarian President in a meeting in Jerusalem Tuesday; “Today we engaged in exchanges against terrorist aggression that comes from our southern border in Gaza, but it actually comes from Iran and a whole terror network that is supporting these attacks”.
“Iran supported Hezbollah’s terror attacks in Bulgaria; Iran is supporting terror attacks now against us in Gaza. We will fight and we will hit them very, very hard – very hard… The way to fight terror is to fight terror, and that we shall do with great force,” he added.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers are shunned by much of the international community, with the EU, Israel and the US all outlawing it as a terrorist organisation, in contrast to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose administration is backed by western powers.
The rocket attacks on Israel came amid a visit by the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the first official visit by a head of state since the Islamic group seized power five years ago.
The Qatari emir has previously tried to mediate between Palestinian factions in an effort to unite the staunch rivals and help propel the peace process forward with Israel. He has also committed a $400 million (€307 million) in aid to the territory, which is likely to increase Hamas’ standing in the region.
The European Union' foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, who is on a 5-day Middle East trip, is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Israel’s leaders and later with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.