Israel renews air strikes across Gaza

138.jpgGAZA CITY (AP) — Israeli air strikes killed five Hamas members in Gaza on Saturday, shortly after fighters floated the idea of halting rocket fire on Israeli border towns if Israel ended its 10-day-old air campaign.Following the attacks, Hamas said a truce was currently no longer on the table.

In all, Israeli aircraft launched 11 missile strikes on Saturday. Before dawn, they struck near the house of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas in a Gaza refugee camp, while troops in the West Bank arrested a Hamas Cabinet minister. Israel’s offensive is aimed at halting Hamas rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli border towns.

Since last week, dozens of missile strikes have killed 48 Palestinians and damaged many Hamas installations. Israel said some 225 rockets have landed in Israeli towns since May 15, killing one woman and sending thousands of Israeli residents fleeing. Two rockets landed in Israel on Saturday, including a direct hit on a home in Sderot. No one was injured.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has tried in recent days to revive a truce with Israel. Under his plan, Gaza fighters would halt rocket fire for a month to allow for negotiations on a more comprehensive ceasefire that would include the West Bank.

After a meeting late Friday, the groups initially asked for 48 hours to respond to the proposal. Abbas has been in talks with them since Tuesday. Five Palestinian factions are scheduled to meet on Sunday to discuss the issue.

Palestinian factions are also slated to travel to Egypt to flesh out a fuller truce and try to resolve internal tensions that killed more than 50 Palestinians earlier this month.

However, Hamas hardened its stance after Saturday’s rash of air attacks, including five in less than an hour, calling on fighters to “direct painful strikes at the Zionist enemy”.

In a statement, the group said it “will not offer a free truce to the Zionist occupation”.

 In a rare appearance, Abu Obeida  Jarrah, the chief commander of the Executive Force, a pro-Hamas security apparatus, said Israel’s targeting of its bases was “a declaration of war” in coordination with its “agents” in Gaza Strip. Hamas has accused members of its rival Fateh of serving Israel’s interests.

The group also warned that Israel’s continued attacks threatened the release of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was nabbed last June by Hamas-linked fighters and has not been heard or seen since.

“The enemy knows that getting Shalit back is in our hands,” said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing. “It would be a dream [to return him while attacks continue].”

He stressed Shalit’s life was not in danger, but rather his freedom. Abu Obeida said a truce with Israel would only be possible after its air strikes ended. “If there is an end to the attacks, we can talk about a truce,” he said.

One of the Saturday’s attacks hit a key Hamas base in Gaza City, killing five Hamas members and wounding four. The compound was used as a training centre and base for Hamas’ militia, the Executive Force. Two rooms in the camp were destroyed and rescue workers searched the rubble.  A nearby charity was badly damaged from the strike. Hamas gunmen shot in the air to disperse a crowd of onlookers.

Earlier on Saturday, two missiles hit close to Haniyeh’s house in the Shati refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City. One landed around 100 metres away and the other 300 metres away, hitting trailers used by Haniyeh’s bodyguards.

“This is a critical stage,” said Haniyeh in a statement hours after the strike. “The aggression will not achieve its goal, but will lead to more disturbance and will have serious consequences.” The army confirmed the Shati strikes but said Haniyeh was not a target.

“I’m very troubled by the level of violence here,” said Michael C. Williams, the UN’s new envoy to the Middle East, who met Saturday with Abbas in Gaza.

 “I think the UN, the international community in general, have been very concerned about the level of intra-Palestinian violence, but also by the Israeli attacks which I know have caused civilian deaths, considerable numbers.”

 In the West Bank, Israeli troops arrested Cabinet Minister Wasfi Kabaha. The arrest came two days after a sweep in which more than 30 Hamas politicians, legislators and local council members were arrested, including the education minister.


Israeli guards kill 2 Palestinian gunmen in East Jerusalem

Occupied JERUSALEM (AP) — Two Palestinian gunmen opened fire at an Israeli security patrol in East Jerusalem late on Saturday, injuring two, police said.

Israeli border police at the scene fired at the attackers, killing both of them. Israeli emergency services said two Israelis were injured and evacuated to hospital, one of whom was in serious condition.

The shooting took place in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Said, near the wall is erecting along Jerusalem’s municipal boundary. The separation barrier is being built to shield the city from suicide bombers and has cut East Jerusalem from the West Bank. It is regularly guarded by security forces.

An offshoot of the violent Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, which is affiliated with the Fateh Party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, claimed responsibility for the shooting attack, according to the Palestinian news website Maan.

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