The Israeli army canceled an air raid on the home of a Gaza militant yesterday after several hundred Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the building, an Israeli military spokesman and witnesses said.
Palestinian sources called the protest the first of its kind to have prevented an air strike by the Israeli military, which said it did so in order to avoid inflicting civilian casualties.
Israel had served a customary warning to the family of a militant of the Popular Resistance Committees in Jebalya refugee camp to promptly evacuate their home because it would soon be bombed, the spokesman and witnesses said.
Hundreds of neighbors and protesters gathered at the site, many barricading themselves inside the house and on its roof in defiance of the warning, witnesses said.
Later an Israeli military spokesman confirmed the raid had been called off because of the protest.
The spokesman vowed Israel would continue its strikes against militants, and accused gunmen of using the civilians in the camp as human shields.
As part of a fight against militants firing rockets from Gaza at Israel, the Israeli military often bombs the homes of gunmen from time to time -- but after warning family members to leave so as to avoid casualties.
Israel has also been under pressure to avoid killing civilians in Gaza since an artillery shell killed 19 in Beit Hanoun on Nov. 8 in an attack criticized internationally, for which Israel apologized and said it was a technical failure.
In the past Gaza occupants have promptly evacuated their homes after receiving an Israeli bomb warning, and air strikes have often followed within the hour.
But after the protest at Jabalya, militant leaders broadcast calls urging Gazan residents to resist future Israeli bomb threats in a similar fashion.
"We call upon all the fighters to reject evacuating their houses and we urge our people to rush into the threatened houses and make human shields," Abu Abir, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees said.
Also yesterday, three Israelis were wounded, one of them seriously, when rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip crashed into the southern town of Sderot, military sources said.
The casualties were caused in two rocket attacks, which also damaged several buildings in the town, where six people have died in such strikes since the second Palestinian uprising broke out in September 2000.
The attacks came with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set to convene his weekly Cabinet meeting for talks to focus on the Gaza Strip and steps that can be taken to stop the rocket fire.