Israel in retaliatory attacks slams Gaza rocket launchers


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli airstrikes destroyed concealed rocket launchers in northern Gaza in retaliation for attacks on southern Israel.

The attacks early Wednesday morning were in response to rockets launched at Israel the previous evening as Palestinian prisoners being released by Israel were being transported to the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

“This is an absurd situation that would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement issued Wednesday. “The IDF is charged with and will continue to operate in order to safeguard Israel’s civilians, and combat terror and its infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.”

One rocket fired Tuesday night at Sderot fell short of its target and is believed to have landed inside Gaza. A second rocket landed in the nearby Sha’ar Hanegev region in an open area. A jihadist group linked to al-Qaida took responsibility for the attacks.

A day earlier, a long-range Grad rocket was fired at Eilat by a jihadist terror group in the Sinai and intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

In the prisoner release, 26 Palestinians were transported in vans to crossings into the West Bank and Gaza. They crossed the border at midnight. Israel agreed to release the prisoners in order to bring the Palestinians back to the peace negotiating table.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas greeted the 11 prisoners freed to the West Bank at a celebration in Ramallah at the site of the Mukata, the presidential palace.

“We welcome our brothers who have left the darkness of prison into the light of freedom and tell them they are the first, but that there are other brothers who too will leave soon. We shall not rest until they are all with us,” Abbas said at the ceremony.

The prisoners first visited the grave of the late P.A. President Yasser Arafat.

The Hamas leadership in Gaza ordered the rival Fatah party to refrain from holding celebrations welcoming home the prisoners, saying it would hold an official ceremony later in the week.

Eventually 104 prisoners jailed before the 1993 Oslo Accords will be released in phases over the next eight months, pending progress in the renewed peace talks, which began Wednesday in Jerusalem under a media blackout.

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