JERUSALEM-- Israeli military forces launched a series of attacks in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in response to suspected Palestinian sniper fire that killed an Israeli civilian doing repair work on the border fence, military authorities said.
A 3-year-old Palestinian girl was killed and members of her family were injured in an airstrike on the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, according to local reports.
They were some of the heaviest strikes in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip since a weeklong Israeli military campaign ended with a November 2012 cease-fire.
Israeli aircraft, tanks and infantry targeted a series of sites across the area, including a weapons manufacturing facility and a concealed rocket launcher, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. “Direct hits were confirmed,” the statement said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned what he called “cowardly” attacks and said Palestinian fighters would not be deterred from “doing their duty,” according to the Palestinian Maan News Agency.
The strikes came after an Israeli civilian, who was doing repair work for the Defense Ministry near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, was hit by a bullet believed to have been fired from Gaza, military authorities said. He was airlifted to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva for medical treatment but died of his wounds.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the shooting, warning, “We will not let it go unanswered.” He spoke at the inauguration of a new train station outside the southern town of Sderot that has been fortified to protect pasengers in case of rocket attacks from Gaza.
“We will retaliate forcefully and painfully,” said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, saying that if there is no peace in Israel, “there will be no peace in Gaza either.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the mounting violence and called on all sides to respect last year’s cease-fire.
“The secretary-general rejects all actions targeting civilians and calls on all concerned to exert maximum restraint to prevent another cycle of bloodshed,” his office said in a statement issued in New York.
Recent days have seen an increase in violence. An Israeli policeman was stabbed Monday while directing traffic north of Jerusalem. The suspect, believed to have fled to a nearby Palestinian village, was not apprehended.
The previous day, a bomb exploded on a bus in Bat Yam, a city neighboring Tel Aviv. A commuter alerted the driver to a suspicious bag with wires sticking out of it, and the passengers were safely evacuated moments before the bus exploded.
Israeli security forces are investigating how the bomb, which is believed to have originated in the West Bank, was taken into central Israel undetected and by whom.
The American Embassy ordered U.S. employees and their families to avoid shared minibus taxis for two weeks, pending a security assessment. That was in addition to a standing ban on the use of public buses.
Israeli officials have also expressed concern about the growing list of attacks, but have stopped short of saying they are part of an organized trend.
“You cannot detect an organized pattern for all the events,” said Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon.
He said, however, that “you cannot ignore the dots and numbers, which show an increase in the acts of violence.”
He cited “continued Palestinian incitement.”
A similar position was taken by Yaalon, who said, “As long as the Palestinian Authority continues to incite and fails to promote a culture of peace,” Israel will face attacks such as those that occurred recently in the West Bank.
According to Danon, some of the West Bank violence is being guided from Gaza by former prisoners who were released in 2011 in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and barred from returning to the West Bank.
Next week, Israel is scheduled to release the third of four groups of Palestinian prisoners serving long-term sentences for attacks that killed Israelis.
Danon, who had strongly objected to the decision, urged Netanyahu to reconsider the release of more prisoners and to hold a new Cabinet vote in light of the intensifying violence. “I believe the outcome will be different today,” he said.
Yoram Schweitzer, a terrorism expert at Tel Aviv university, told Israeli news media Tuesday that he does not think the group slated for release intends to return to violent activity, but “whoever does will be dealt with.”
In July, Netanyahu barely managed to pass a decision to release 104 Palestinian prisoners as part of renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Sobelman is a special correspondent.