Israeli military strikes Gaza after civilian is shot by Palestinian sniper

Tsafrir Abayov/AP - Israeli army paramedics treat a civilian shot near the Israel and Gaza border, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. The man, an Israeli civilian, was shot as he performed maintenance work on the border fence and was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital.

JERUSALEM — Tensions were running high Tuesday along the volatile border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after an Israeli civilian was killed by a sniper, and the Israeli military responded with an air, tank and infantry assault on the Palestinian enclave, killing at least two people, according to Palestinian reports.

Israeli army spokeswoman Libby Weiss confirmed the military action, saying it focused on six sites she described as either “weapons manufacturing sites” or related to the “terror infrastructure” in Gaza.

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“What we are seeing now is a response to the killing of an Israeli civilian shot earlier today,” she said, adding that this was the first time since November 2012, when Israel and Gaza fought an intense eight-day war, that an Israeli civilian had been killed.

The shooting of 22-year-old Salah Shukri Abu Latyef, a contractor for the Defense Ministry sent to make repairs to the border fence, took place about midday, Israeli media reported.

Within hours, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been visiting the nearby town of Sderot, responded by calling the incident “very severe.”

“We will not let it go unanswered,” he said. “Our policy until now has been to act beforehand and to respond in force, and this is how we will act regarding this incident as well.”

Not long after, Palestinian media reported that Israeli air force strikes had killed a 3-year-old girl and that a Palestinian had been shot dead at the border by Israeli military forces.

“What we are witnessing is Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people,” said Hamas spokeswoman Isra Almodallal, adding that 14 other civilians were injured. “Israel is hitting civilians and not working in any kind of military way. They are targeting innocent people.”

Tuesday’s tensions between Israel and Gaza marked a new high since an Egypt-brokered cease-fire brought full-blown military action to an end in November 2012. Since then, despite several Israeli military strikes, mostly in response to rockets fired by Palestinian militants, the cease-fire has managed to hold.

The Gaza shooting and subsequent Israeli military assault follows an uptick in violence in the past few months, with two incidents in the past two days. On Sunday, a bombing on a public bus left one person injured, and on Monday, a Palestinian man stabbed an Israeli police officer in the back in the Israeli settlement of Adam.

Meanwhile, efforts are ongoing to bring about a U.S.-brokered peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, who have been meeting regularly to reach a deal since July. On Sunday, a third batch of Palestinian political prisoners is set to be released by Israel as a goodwill gesture, even though many Israeli political leaders say this step should be put on hold in light of the flare-up in violence.

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