Israeli airstrike hits Gaza strip

Israel fired shells and missiles at the Gaza Strip today, hitting two offices of the militant Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.

They also hit a bridge the army said was used by militants to reach areas where they fire rockets.

Hours later, about two dozen armed Al Aqsa militants took over the governor’s office and two other government buildings in northern Gaza – the latest outbreak of lawlessness that has undermined the rule of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel’s pre-dawn airstrikes were part of the army’s attempt to halt rocket fire on Israeli towns bordering Gaza. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has approved a buffer zone in northern Gaza, although the army said it has not yet implemented the plan.

The army has been destroying roads and other installations used by militants to get to areas that put Israeli towns within range of their highly inaccurate, home-made rockets.

Since Israel’s withdrawal this summer from the Gaza Strip, more Israeli towns - including the city of Ashkelon – have come into rocket range. Earlier this month, a rocket landed near Ashkelon’s power plant and a fuel depot, alarming Israelis.

The offices of Al Aqsa – a group with links to the ruling Fatah party – were targeted because militants used them to meet, plan and recruit, the army said.

But Palestinians said the offices, empty during the airstrike, were used for social and educational purposes.

The raid partially destroyed the buildings, leaving a big hole in the outer walls, shattering windows and burning furniture. One missile was fired into each building, Palestinian witnesses said.


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