Violence shakes Gaza despite calls for calm

13.jpgGAZA CITY (AFP) — An Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip wounded two Palestinians trying to fire a rocket on Thursday as violence continued in the lawless territory despite international appeals for restraint.With no sign of an end to the conflict, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will travel to Washington to meet US President George W. Bush on June 19 to discuss Iran’s controversial nuclear programme and the Middle East conflict.

The two leaders last met in November in Washington, and in the meantime Israel’s main ally has stepped up its efforts to revive dormant peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Olmert will also meet moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas next week after a two-month hiatus in an apparent effort to end violence between the two sides.

The meeting will take place in the occupied West Bank for the first time since the two leaders first met last year, the Palestinians said.

The violence in Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated places and reeling from an aid boycott, has threatened to torpedo these moves.

Early Thursday, two fighters from the Popular Resistance Committees were wounded in northern Gaza as they prepared to fire a rocket at Israel, Palestinian security sources and witnesses said.

“Israeli aviation attacked on Thursday morning positions in the northern Gaza Strip from where rockets were fired against Israel,” an army spokesman said.

Earlier, two rockets hit Israel without causing injuries, he said.

The Israeli government on Wednesday warned there would be no let-up in its raids on Gaza fighters, which have killed 13 civilians and 37 activists since being resumed two weeks ago.

For his part, Hamas political supremo Khaled Mishaal vowed in an interview that the Islamist movement would continue its fight as well.

The avowals came despite a call by Abbas for Israel and fighters to return to a truce, which both sides largely abided by for six months until the latest violence flared up two weeks ago.

Israel resumed its deadly strikes in Gaza after a six-month ceasefire in response to an increase in rocket fire from the unruly territory, but the raids have failed to stop fighters firing the projectiles.

Nearly 270 rockets have hit Israel since May 15, according to the army, killing two civilians, wounding 20 others and sending hundreds fleeing from the town of Sderot that has borne the brunt of the fire.

“We should completely cut ourselves off from the Gaza Strip,” Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu Party, told army radio.

“Let Egypt provide it with water, electricity and fuel from the Sinai and let the international community, especially the European Union, assume its responsibilities,” he said.

“The Palestinian Authority is not assuming its [responsibilities] and the Gaza Strip should be declared hostile territory… the Palestinians must understand that they cannot continue to fire and attack us.” Chaos has reigned in Gaza since Israel pulled settlers and soldiers out of the territory in 2005 after a 38-year occupation.

The international community has been increasingly alarmed by the violence in Gaza, including the latest bout of deadly street battles between rivals Hamas and Fateh that killed 54 people before a shaky truce was implemented on May 19.

G-8 foreign ministers meeting in Germany on Wednesday called on Palestinian leaders to stop fighters from firing rockets 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.

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.”

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