The Wall Street Journal (Link) - Joshua Mitnick (April 8, 2011)
Violence flared anew on the Gaza-Israel border as an antitank missile fired by Palestinian militants hit an Israeli school bus, prompting retaliatory artillery and helicopter strikes by the Israeli military.
The missile fired by Palestinian militants hit a bus at a road junction three to four miles from the Gaza border, shortly after dropping off school children at nearby kibbutz. Only two passengers were riding on the vehicle at the time. leaving one teenager critically wounded.
The Israeli army immediately responded against Gaza targets Thursday afternoon with artillery fire and attacks from the helicopters, which killed three Palestinians and injured a dozen, according to Palestinian reports. Militants responded by firing 16 mortars.
Though Israel and Hamas stepped back from a broad conflict after a serious escalation two weeks ago, the attacks Thursday highlighted the volatility of the situation along the border. Despite previous statements by Israel and Hamas about a desire to restore stability, the calm that prevailed in the region since a war two years ago has yet to be re-established.
Israel is also worried that bus attack may portend a game-changing escalation because it shows militants� readiness to use sophisticated and more precise weaponry on civilian targets than the mortars and locally manufactured rockets commonly fired into southern Israel.
Israel�s defense minister on Thursday said the military has activated a new missile-defense system for the first time, and officials believe it successfully shot down an incoming Palestinian rocket, the Associated Press reported.
A statement by the Israeli army said it holds Hamas responsible for the attack, though no organization has claimed responsibility. [A Bridges For Peace article clarified that �Hamas�s military wing later claimed credit for the attack in an article on their English-language Web site complete with photos of the damaged bus.�]
�This is a very serious incident. We�re talking about a heavy-duty weapon used against a civilian target,� said Capt. Barak Raz, a military spokesman. �We�ve had rocket attacks before, but this is a more serious weapon, not a rocket built in someone�s basement.�
Israeli commentators suggested the attack on the bus was retaliation for an air attack over the weekend that killed a Hamas military commander whom the Israeli army accused of planning kidnappings of Israelis in the Sinai peninsula.
A statement from Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Israel of responsibility for the escalation and promised revenge. The statement alleged that Israel had been emboldened by an article last week by Justice Richard Goldstone retracting some of the conclusions of a scathing report by a United Nations inquiry into the Hamas-Israel fighting two years ago in Gaza.
�Israel is using the retraction of the Goldstone report as an excuse to hit Gaza and commit more crimes,� the statement said. �Palestinian factions will not be quiet when Israel is shedding Palestinian blood. This will not pass without a punishment.�
Two weeks ago, the sides traded rounds of attacks, with militants firing several rockets at southern Israeli cities and the Israeli military launching strikes that caused the highest one-day death toll in Gaza since the conflict in 2008-2009. But after several days of fighting both Hamas and Israel declared their desire to restore stability in the region. �
Islam ~ Israel