Fatah-linked militants claim Gaza rocket attack

AFP | By, Gaza City
Feb 26, 2013 04:51 PM IST

Militiants linked to the Fatah party take responsibility for rocket attack on the Israeli city of Ashkelon as retaliation for the custody death of a 30-year-old prisoner who had been interrogated for throwing stones.

Gaza militants from Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades fired a rocket at Israel on Tuesday in a "preliminary" step after one of its men died following an Israeli interrogation.

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It was the first time a Gaza rocket had struck southern Israel in more than three months, and stoked fears that the mass protests in the West Bank over the fate of prisoners held in Israeli jails could spread to the Hamas-run territory.

Following weeks of anger in support of four prisoners on long-term hunger strike, the issue came to head on Saturday with news that a 30-year-old prisoner who had been interrogated for throwing stones had died in custody.

Arafat Jaradat was arrested on February 18 and interrogated by Israel's Shin Bet internal security services on suspicion of involvement in a "stone-throwing terror attack" in November. Five days later, he died in Megiddo prison.

His death sparked angry demonstrations across the West Bank, with Palestinian prisoner affairs minister Issa Qaraqaa saying preliminary results from his autopsy showed he had died "as a result of torture".

At his funeral near the southern city of Hebron on Monday, militants from Al-Aqsa Brigades, an armed offshoot of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party, vowed revenge, with the group claiming Tuesday's rocket as a first response.

"In a preliminary response to the killing of our hero the prisoner Arafat Jaradat, we claim responsibility for firing a Grad rocket on Ashkelon at 6 am (4 am GMT)," the Gaza branch said in a statement.

The rocket struck a road just south of the Israeli port city, causing damage but no injuries, police said.

It was the first such attack since the end of an eight-day confrontation in November during which militants fired more than a thousand rockets at Israel and the air force hit back with a major bombing campaign.

The violence, which killed 177 Palestinians and six Israelis, ended with a truce deal on November 21.

Meanwhile Palestinian police could be seen preventing demonstrators from reaching an area near Jalame checkpoint in the northern West Bank which has seen several mass protests erupt into violence in the last 10 days, an AFP correspondent said.

Earlier, Abbas had instructed the security forces to "maintain the calm" in the West Bank, following a demand from Israel at the weekend that he act to calm the situation.

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