GAZA CITY - Israeli air strikes killed eight militants in Gaza overnight as clashes over the kidnap and murder of a Palestinian teenager raged into the early hours of Monday.
It was the worst bloodshed in Gaza since the start of the current round of violence in and around the territory, which began on June 12 in response to a vast West Bank arrest campaign to find those behind the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
It comes as authorities struggles to contain five days of clashes in annexed east Jerusalem and in Arab towns across Israel following the kidnap and murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian in a suspected revenge attack by Jewish extremists. Security forces arrested six Jewish extremists on Sunday on suspicion of carrying out the murder in retaliation for the killing of the three young Israelis.
During the overnight strikes on Gaza, eight Palestinian militants were killed, medics said, with another two missing, presumed dead.
Five of the dead were from Ezzedine al-Qassam, the armed wing of Hamas, whom Israel has blamed for the murder of the three teenagers.
Two militants were killed in a strike east of Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, witnesses said. Another four, all Hamas members, were killed when an Israeli missile struck a tunnel near the southern city of Rafah, medics said, confirming they had so far recovered four bodies from the tunnel. Ezzedine al-Qassam put the tunnel toll at six dead. It also said another of its militants was killed in a separate drone strike in Rafah, with medics confirming the death.
The Israeli army confirmed hitting 14 targets overnight, and said that militants had fired an anti-tank missile at an army patrol by the border fence. There were no casualties.
Since midnight (2100 GMT Sunday), 14 rockets have struck Israel, one of which hit an open area on the outskirts of the southern city of Beersheva, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Gaza, an army spokesman said. So far, Israel’s response to the rocket fire has been relatively measured, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resisting calls from hardliners within his cabinet for a major operation in Gaza.
But on Monday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the rightwing nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, said he was ending his party’s 20-month alliance with Netanyahu’s Likud over its handling of the Gaza crisis. Lieberman’s faction is to remain in the governing coalition but his party’s divorce from the Likud was expected to give it greater freedom of action in parliament. Meanwhile, Netanyahu telephoned the father of the murdered Palestinian teenager to express his outrage over the “abhorrent” killing.
“We denounce all brutal behaviour. The murder of your son is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced by any human being,” Netanyahu told Hussein Abu Khder, whose son Mohammed, 16, was burned alive, according to preliminary post-mortem findings.
Overnight, the angry protests which have gripped east Jerusalem and Arab Israeli towns continued to spread.
“Around 110 people were arrested overnight for disturbing public order, throwing stones, damaging property and interfering with police work,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP.
In a bid to calm the unrest, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni met with Arab political and spiritual leaders on Monday, her office said.
Much of the violence took place in the Triangle, a concentration of Arab towns and villages close to the border with the northern West Bank.
Clashes also took place in and around Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city, as well as in villages in the Galilee region.
And for the first time, demonstrations and stone-throwing erupted in Bedouin settlements in the southern Negev desert, police said.
Nationwide, police reported scores of incidents in which protesters, some of them masked, blocked roads, hurled stones and burned tyres, sparking clashes with the security forces.
In the northern town of Hadera, 600 Israelis joined two opposing demonstrations, one protesting against displays of racism, while right-wing extremists staged a counter demo, police said. Some 45 people were arrested.