Israel's air force bombed an Islamic Jihad base in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing a commander and four munitions experts from the Palestinian faction, officials on both sides said.
The strike in Rafah followed a Palestinian cross-border rocket launch this week which the Israelis blamed on Islamic Jihad. That attack caused no casualties but a rocket landed deep enough to set off sirens on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
Fresh salvoes were fired on Saturday evening, wounding three Israelis, and another air strike killed two Islamic Jihad gunmen. The flare-up ended a relative lull in violence that surrounded a major, Egyptian-brokered prisoner swap on October 18 between Gaza's governing Hamas Islamists and the Jewish state.
We seek no confrontation with the Palestinians and do not want to inflame the situation, but we will not absorb shelling after shelling without a response, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement.
Calling for international intervention to stop the rocket launches at once, he threatened there could be consequences in the coming days without specifying what they would be.
Islamic Jihad said that air strike on its Rafah training camp killed commander Ahmed al-Sheikh Khalil and four comrades who oversaw manufacture of bombs and rockets for the faction.
Doctors said two other militants were hurt in the incident, during which witnesses reported Israeli helicopters overhead.
Israel's military said its aircraft targeted a terrorist squad ... that was preparing to launch long-range rockets.
It said in a statement that those targeted were responsible for the rocket launch late on Wednesday, though no Palestinian faction had claimed responsibility.
NO TRUCE NOW
The United Nations, which runs an extensive aid network in Gaza and is among foreign powers trying to revive moribund peace talks between Israel and the U.S.-backed Palestinian administration in the occupied West Bank, appealed for calm.
It is vital to de-escalate now, without delay, said senior U.N. envoy Robert Serry.
Islamic Jihad, a sometime Hamas ally, has chafed at its recent efforts to impose de facto ceasefires with Israel as it negotiates a coalition accord with its West Bank-based rivals.
Hamas last week repatriated an Israeli soldier it seized in 2006 in exchange for the staggered release of more than 1,000 jailed Palestinians. That deal, mediated by Egypt, stirred speculation a more enduring detente could be in the works.
There is no chance of speaking about a truce now, following such a big crime against leaders of the group, said Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Ahmed.
Now we are talking about the suitable response to this crime, he said, a threat of retribution echoed by other militant groups.
Within hours, at least 20 Palestinian rockets and mortar bombs hit different sites in southern Israel, wounding three civilians, police said. Islamic Jihad and the more secular factions Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades separately took credit.
A second Israeli air strike followed in Rafah, killing two Islamic Jihad gunmen and wounding a third, doctors said.
Islamic Jihad released images of what it said was the firing by its men of a truck-mounted multiple rocket-launcher, a platform recalling those of Libyan rebels and not previously seen in Gaza. Israel says Gazan arsenals have been boosted by gun-running from Libya since the fall of its ruler, Muammar Gaddafi. [nL5E7JT145]
Remarking on the Rafah deaths, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Israel of a serious escalation against our people.
In keeping with Israeli government policy, the military statement said Hamas bore ultimate responsibility for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)