Ma’an – The Popular Resistance Committees claimed a third round of mortar launches Thursday afternoon, following two early morning barrages aimed at Israeli targets in and around the Gaza Strip, sources said.
The total number of confirmed launches stood at 11 by the mid-afternoon, with three more reported after 2pm, while Israeli media sources said 10 of the mortars landed in the southern Negev. One of the projectiles landed near the Kerem Shalom crossing, prompting its closure.
An Israeli military spokesman told Ma'an that officials confirmed that five-seven shells had landed, including two on the crossing itself. There were no reports of injuries or damage.
The three launches appear to be the largest attack on southern Israel since the end of Israel's Operation Cast Lead last year. Projectiles have been intermittently launched at Israeli targets in clusters of two to four, with no more than two barrages launched in a single day. The PRC said the first launch two launches included eight, and the second an additional four mortars.
After the first two launches, Israeli forces dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets into areas in the north and east of the Gaza Strip (pictured above), warning Gazans to stay away from the border area.
Shortly after the third launch, Palestinians in Jabaliya reported hearing explosions in the north, though no evidence of Israeli artillery fire or airstrikes was found.
Resistance Fighter Killed
In the early morning, Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, also said that one of its members, identified as Usama Zuheir Al-Qassas, died during what the group described as a “Jihad mission” in Rafah in southern Gaza. The circumstances of the death were unclear.
The leaflets, which residents said were dropped in northern and southern Gaza, warned Palestinians not to approach within 300 meters of the Israeli border, and also warned against digging smuggling tunnels into Egypt.
One flier says that the “prohibited zone” includes border areas in Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun, and Jabaliya in the north, Khan Younis, Khuza’a, and Abasan in the center, and Rafah in the south.
A second leaflet warns Palestinians against using smuggling tunnels to circumvent the Israeli blockade of the territory.
“Terrorists, tunnel owners, and the smugglers of military equipment know for certain that the continuation of terrorist attacks, the smuggling of military equipment, and the digging of tunnels will be targeted by the IDF, but they continue to work in your residential areas and seek refuge among you," the flier read in Arabic.
“The digging tunnels under your houses and the smuggling of military equipment into Gaza constitutes a threat to your lives, the lives of your children and family, and your property,” it added.
“Do not stay idle and let the terrorists use you. They will not stand beside you when when harm is done to you and your property."
“Take responsibility for your future,” it concludes.
The leaflet also lists an email address and a phone number urging Palestinians to provide information about smugglers and tunnel operators.
A military spokesman confirmed that the leaflets were dropped from air force planes, warning that anyone who comes withing 300 meters of the border is "putting themselves at risk," and also warning against weapons smuggling. The spokesman said "the IDF will operate against anyone who harbors terrorists."
Gaza Crossings Closed
Following the first wave of mortar launches, Israel announced that the Kerem Shalom crossing point was closed when sources said a mortar shells fired from Gaza landed in the area. Palestinian officials said between 86 and 96 trucks had been scheduled deliver aid to Gaza.
Israel shut down its borders with Gaza after the elected Hamas government took full control of the territory in June 2007. The closure has reduced imports of vital goods to one-fifth of pre-blockade levels and prevented the Strip’s 1.5 million residents from leaving.
Tension in the south
On Thursday afternoon an Egyptian soldier was shot dead and two Palestinians wounded during clashes along the border. Demonstrators pelted Egyptian soldiers with stones after a protest rally decrying violence a British-led aid convoy.
The convoy led by British MP George Galloway, entered Gaza on Thursday night, a day after Egyptian riot police injured 50 of its members following a dispute over the group’s route into Gaza.