(MENAFN - Arab News) Six Palestinians were killed and 30 injured by Israeli shelling and air strikes after militants fired on an Israeli jeep, wounding four soldiers, medics and witnesses said yesterday.
Israel said it was poised to escalate attacks on the Gaza Strip. Two Gaza fighters died in an Israeli air strikes. Two workers were wounded later when a plastics factory in northern Gaza Strip caught fire after it was hit by an Israeli tank shell, emergency workers said.
Israel's Iron Dome defense system knocked out a longer-range "Grad" rocket that was aimed at the southern city of Beersheba, the army said.
Thousands of Palestinians marching in the funerals of six people killed in the past 24 hours cried: "Revenge, revenge." One man said an Israeli tank fired at children then fired on adults who rushed to the scene.
The Israeli military said the tank had shot back at the spot where shortly before the fighters had fired an anti-tank missile at the army patrol. The flare-up, which began on Saturday, was one of the most serious clashes in a single day since Israel's devastating 22-day operation in the Gaza Strip over New Year 2009.
The Israeli army confirmed it had attacked seven different targets overnight, including arms dumps, a weapons-making facility and two rocket-launching sites "in response to recent events." As the air force pounded Gaza, fighters fired 36 rockets over the border, injuring four people in the Israeli town of Sderot, which lies several kilometers from the border.
Late Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks with his Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz to discuss the situation in the south, the premier said on Twitter.
"The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) responded severely to the incident and additional responses will be examined in the coming days," Barak was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.
The bloodshed was swiftly condemned by the Hamas government, as well as by radical groups, which vowed revenge.
"The occupation attacked Palestinian civilians east of Gaza City and Khan Yunis. We consider this escalation as very dangerous. It must stop immediately," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum.
The armed wing of the radical Popular Resistance Committees also released a statement vowing that "the Zionist enemy will pay a high price for this crime against Gaza."
And Islamic Jihad also issued a warning, saying: "Every aggression against the Palestinian people will be followed by a response from the resistance." In recent days, tensions have been rising between Israeli troops and Gaza fighters.
Meanwhile, Palestinians are coordinating with Russia, as well as Swiss and French experts, on the exhumation of late president Yasser Arafat, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said yesterday.
Arafat died in a French military hospital near Paris on Nov. 11, 2004 and French experts were unable to say what had killed him, with many Palestinians convinced he was poisoned by Israel.
"We are currently in coordination with the French investigators, the Swiss experts, and also the Russian government to open the tomb," Abbas said in a speech marking the eighth anniversary of Arafat's death.
His comments were the first time Palestinian officials have said that Russia is involved in the new investigation into Arafat's death.
"We hope for new facts that we can tell our people and the public," Abbas said, adding that the investigation was "bigger and more important" that the "media uproar" created by an Al-Jazeera inquiry into Arafat's death.
French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry in August after Al-Jazeera television broadcast an investigation in which Swiss experts said they had found high levels of radioactive polonium on Arafat's personal effects.
A French team is due to arrive in Ramallah on Nov. 26 to begin work on exhuming the body, Palestinian sources said last month, adding that Swiss experts would arrive at the same time for an operation that could take "several weeks or a month."