Palestinian militants fired a rocket at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing a Thai farm worker, Israeli medics said, in the first death from such an attack since the Gaza offensive last year.
Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency service, said the man was about 30 years old and was working in an agricultural community just north of Gaza.
Tens of thousands of foreign labourers work in construction, agriculture and other menial jobs in Israel. In many cases, these foreign workers have replaced Palestinian labourers from Gaza, who are no longer allowed to enter Israel.
A small Islamist faction calling itself Ansar al—Sunna claimed responsibility for the attack. Similar hardline groups, which are inspired by al—Qaeda’s radical ideology and see Gaza’s Hamas rulers as too moderate, have been responsible for most of the attacks since the Gaza war ended in January 2009.
A second group, the Al—Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, also later claimed responsibility.
Thursday’s attack came on the same day as a visit to Gaza by Europe’s top diplomat, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who had just crossed into the territory when the rocket was fired.
“I condemn any kind of violence. We have got to find a peaceful solution to the issues and problems,” she said. Ms. Ashton is the most senior international official to visit Gaza in more than a year.
United Nations Secretary—General Ban Ki—moon, also condemned the attack.
“All such acts of terror and violence against civilians are totally unacceptable and contrary to international law,” he said in a statement.
In a statement e—mailed to reporters in Gaza, the Ansar al—Sunna faction said the attack was a response to Israel’s “Judaization” of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.
Israel’s military said it was the third rocket fired from Gaza in a 12—hour stretch. There was no immediate Israeli retaliation.
Thousands of crude rockets launched from Gaza at Israel over a seven—year period sparked the Israeli military’s three—week offensive in the Gaza Strip. The brief war devastated the Palestinian territory, killing 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed.
Rocket attacks and border ambushes have dropped dramatically since the war. Hamas itself has largely refrained from carrying out attacks since last year’s war and ordered rival groups to maintain the calm.
Thursday’s dual claims of responsibility, which could not be independently verified, came from Hamas rivals.
Ms. Ashton was touring Gaza to get a firsthand look at the hardships caused by the war and by a punishing Israeli—Egyptian border blockade that has been in place since Hamas’ violent take over of Gaza in 2007.
Thousands of homes were razed or damaged during Israel’s offensive, but reconstruction is on hold because building supplies cannot reach Gaza.
The West also shuns Gaza’s Islamic militant rulers as terrorists, while Hamas refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel to win acceptance.
Ms. Ashton did not meet with Hamas officials.
Last year, the international community pledged some $4.5 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction, but little has been spent because of the blockade, aid officials say.
In Abed Rabbo, a neighbourhood close to the border with Israel that was one of the hardest—hit areas in the war, men leading donkey carts full of rubble from destroyed buildings watched Ms. Ashton’s convoy pass.
“What we have been saying to the Israelis for a long time is that we need to allow aid into this region, to be able to support the economy to grow for people,” she told reporters.
With the standoff continuing, Gaza’s 1.5 million people become increasingly dependent on foreign aid. Europe spends some euro500 million ($688 million) a year - or half its annual aid to the Palestinians - to help keep Gaza afloat.
After her Gaza visit, Ms. Ashton is to attend a major Mideast meeting of the so—called Quartet of Mideast mediators - the United States, the United Nations, Europe and Russia - in Moscow on Friday.
The Quartet was to have given its blessing to indirect negotiations between Israelis and the moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank. Talks were put off after Israel announced new housing for Jews in east Jerusalem, setting of a diplomatic crisis with the U.S.