Israel + 1 more

OPT: Israel hits Gaza with more strikes, seven wounded

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, May 23 (Reuters) - Israel launched more air strikes on suspected Gaza militants on Wednesday which wounded seven people, hospital officials and residents of the northern part of the coastal strip said.

An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed an aircraft had fired missiles into a building used to store munitions and that secondary explosions were observed.

Israel said on Tuesday it could target Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and a Gaza ground offensive was possible unless world pressure was brought on the Islamist group to halt rocket fire aimed at the Jewish state.

The threat caused the postponement of a meeting between Haniyeh and President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who arrived in Gaza to discuss the restoration of law and order and perhaps resuming a Gaza truce with Israel, an Abbas aide said.

Hamas officials said they were wary that Israel could target Haniyeh on his way to or from the meeting with Abbas.

The Abbas aide added that the meeting between the two would most likely take place later on Wednesday when the president was expected to meet with officials from all Palestinian factions in an effort to restore calm following internal strife.

At least 49 Palestinians have been killed in fighting between Hamas and Fatah since they formed a unity government in March, though a ceasefire declared on Sunday seems to be holding. The EU said it feared Gaza could slide into civil war.

He said Abbas would possibly also try to persuade the factions to cease their rocket fire into Israel in order to get Israel to stop the air strikes which continued sporadically through the early hours of Wednesday.


Israeli air strikes over the past week have killed at least 34 Palestinians, medical officials said in Gaza. Militant groups said 23 of the dead were fighters.

Asked if Haniyeh was on Israel's hit-list, Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh said: "I'll put it like this -- there is no one who is in the circle of commanders and leaders in Hamas who is immune from a strike."

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said in response in Gaza: "Any harm to Prime Minister Haniyeh or any Hamas leader would mean a change in the rules of the game and the occupation (Israel) must be ready to pay an unprecedented price."

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey in Washington urged Israel to weigh the consequences "both in terms of the possibilities for continued political dialogue as well as what other kinds of reactions there might be".

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz, meeting the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, called on the international community to take action immediately to try to persuade Hamas to stop firing the rockets at Israel.

Abu Zuhri said Israel must first stop its attacks on Palestinians before the group and other factions could consider halting their own strikes.

The Israeli army said about 150 rockets have been fired from Gaza in a week in which Hamas, which had been battling Abbas's Fatah faction, turned to attacks against Israel, accusing the Jewish state of aiding its rival.

A woman was killed on Monday in the Israeli town of Sderot, the first fatality in a Palestinian rocket attack since November. (Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Arshad Mohammed in Washington).


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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