Israeli Air Strikes Kill 15 Militants in Gaza

Posted March 10th, 2012 at 5:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Israeli air strikes have killed 15 militants, including a top leader, in the Gaza Strip since Friday as Palestinian militants launched nearly 100 rockets into the Jewish state that wounded at least four people, one of them seriously.

Among the dead is Zuhair al-Qaissi, the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees . The group is best known for the 2006 abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who was freed last year in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the air strikes will continue and the Israeli army will hit anyone planning to attack Israeli citizens.

“The whole round will continue as long as necessary to make sure that whoever has to be punished for these attempts to initiate terrorist attacks against Israeli as well as those who are trying to launch rockets at us will be punished.”

Israel said it launched the airstrikes because the PRC was planning an attack on Israel from Egypt.

The escalating violence drew appeals for a cease-fire from the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland expressed concern and urged both sides to restore calm. European Union policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called for an end to the circle of violence, while Robert Serry, the U.N.'s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, urged both sides to exercise maximum restraint.

Thousands of Palestinian mourners took to the streets of Gaza for the funeral processions of those killed, many chanting “Revenge, revenge!”

Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, and Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri blamed Israel for the flare-up.

“The Israeli occupation is completely responsible for this escalation and its consequences. The Hamas movement confirms the right of resistance of our people and the factions to defend themselves in facing these crimes.”

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon accused Hamas of forcing Israel's hand.

“It's unacceptable that a million residents of Israel will be subjected to the mercy of Hamas and all the terror organizations in Gaza. We cannot accept this equation and we will not accept a war of attrition which is what we are seeing.”