Israel kills 2 Hamas men in Gaza, vows to keep up attacks

168.jpgGAZA CITY (AFP) — Two Hamas fighters were killed in an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday as the government vowed to keep up attacks on activists to try to stamp out persistent rocket fire.Hamas political supremo Khaled Mishaal said in an interview his group will continue attacks despite Israel’s pounding of targets in Gaza that has killed 50 people in the past two weeks, most of them fighters.

An early morning air strike in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza killed two Hamas fighters, the group said, with the army saying it had targetted “armed terrorists”. Israel’s powerful security Cabinet met briefly, dismissing calls to intensify army operations in Gaza. But it said there would be no let-up in the current level of response, which has seen nearly daily air strikes.

“Israel will continue targetting and placing military pressure on the terror organisations,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said after the meeting.

G-8 foreign ministers, meeting in Potsdam, Germany, called on Palestinian leaders to stop fighters from firing rockets on Israel and urged the Israelis to show restraint in their response.

“We call on the Palestinian leadership to do everything in its power to end the firing of rockets into Israeli territory,” they said in the German version of the final communique obtained by AFP.

They also called for Israel to “show restraint in its reaction to these attacks and to refrain from any measures which are not in accordance with international law”. At the same time, the UN Security Council, called for an immediate end to Palestinian infighting welcomed efforts by Abbas to arrange a ceasefire. Palestinian UN observer Ryad Mansour called the council statement “a small step in the right direction” and expressed hope that “we can build on it for a larger involvement” of the council in the situation.

Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman reiterated that attacks against fighters in Gaza and the West Bank would stop only when the Palestinian leadership secures an end to the rocket firing.

The escalating bloodshed in Gaza, which has included fierce factional fighting between rivals Hamas and Fateh, has threatened to torpedo efforts to revive the Israel-Palestinian peace process. The Cabinet rejected calls by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to restore a truce with fighters, which lasted for six months before collapsing two weeks ago amid Palestinian factional fighting, a barrage of rocket attacks and deadly retaliatory Israeli raids.

“Israel is not holding any negotiations with the terror organisations on a ceasefire,” said the statement.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said after the meeting that “all those who are sending the terrorists are a legitimate target”. In Gaza, Abbas repeated his appeal.

“The Palestinian government has made it known that it is in favour of a reciprocal and simultaneous truce that will allow the Palestinian people to live in security,” he said after meeting Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. “The ball is in Israel’s camp.” The Israeli raids have so far killed 13 civilians and 37 fighters, mostly from Hamas, but have failed to halt the rockets.

The army says nearly 270 projectiles have been fired since May 15, killing two civilians, wounding 20 others and sending hundreds fleeing from the southern town of Sderot, which has borne the brunt of the fire.

Hamas supremo Mishaal vowed in an interview with Britain’s The Guardian newspaper that the group would continue to fight Israel, saying armed resistance would eventually drive it out of the occupied Palestinian territories.

“Under occupation people don’t ask whether their means are effective in hurting the enemy,” he was quoted as saying from his office in Damascus.

“The occupiers always have the means to hurt the people they control. The Palestinians have only modest means, so they defend themselves however they can.” Amid widespread concern over the spiralling violence, Abbas announced on Tuesday he would meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert next week for the first time since April 15.

Abbas has called for Gaza fighters to stop the “futile” rocket firings so a truce can be restored with Israel in the coastal strip and expanded to the West Bank.

He has proposed to the five main Palestinian factions a 10-point plan on a comprehensive truce with Israel. The groups, including Abbas’ secular Fateh and the Islamist Hamas, are currently discussing the proposal with Egyptian mediators in Cairo, and those talks are expected to continue on Thursday.

After Wednesday’s round, Fateh’s Deputy Premier Azzam Al Ahmed said “we discussed the conditions of a truce with Israel”. The plan includes a stop to rocket fire, a halt to Israeli air, ground and navy operations, a stop to Israeli arrests and targetted assassinations in both Gaza and the West Bank, a timeline for withdrawal from areas supposed to be under Palestinian control that Israel reoccupied after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000 and a gradual deployment of Palestinian security forces in northern and eastern Gaza.

The latest bout of internal Palestinian fighting killed at last 54 people in Gaza before a shaky truce was implemented on May 19. 

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