GAZA, May 23 (Reuters) - Israel launched air strikes and a ground operation on Wednesday against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met to try to calm tensions.
Palestinian cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Abbas of Fatah and Haniyeh of Hamas met at an undisclosed location in the narrow coastal strip for security reasons.
An earlier meeting was cancelled after Israel said on Tuesday it could target Haniyeh if the ruling Islamist group refused to halt rocket fire on southern Israeli towns.
The meeting was the first since a surge in factional violence this month pushed Palestinians to the brink of civil war. Despite the latest ceasefire, tensions between Hamas and secular Fatah, which formed a Palestinian unity government two months ago, remained high.
Israel's bombing campaign against Hamas entered a second week with air strikes on Wednesday that destroyed two buildings that the army said were being used to manufacture and store munitions. Palestinians denied the buildings held weapons.
Local hospital officials said at least seven Palestinians were wounded overnight.
In a rare move, Israeli ground forces entered a small village in southern Gaza. During the brief raid, the troops held seven Palestinians for questioning, local residents and Israeli military sources said.
One of the Palestinians, 17-year-old Samer Qdaih, said the Israeli troops threatened to return to flatten the neighbourhood if rocket fire against Israeli towns continued.
At least two rockets fell on southern Israel on Wednesday, compared to 10 on Tuesday. Hamas did not claim responsibility for any of Wednesday's firings.
A woman was killed on Monday in the Israeli town of Sderot, the first fatality in a Palestinian rocket attack since November. At least 190 rockets have landed in Israel in the last eight days, the army said.
Hamad said the Abbas-Haniyeh talks would focus on the deteriorating security situation in Gaza due to internal fighting and Israel's military campaign.
Other Palestinian officials said Abbas was expected to press Haniyeh, and other faction leaders at a separate meeting on Wednesday night, to cease rocket fire into Israel in order to get Israel to stop the air strikes.
At least 50 Palestinians were killed in the latest round of factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah. A ceasefire declared on Sunday seemed largely to be holding for now.
Egypt has proposed sponsoring a new round of talks in Cairo to try to settle disputes between Hamas and Fatah.
"There is a need for a comprehensive dialogue between all the factions on all issues. What has been happening is treating the symptoms and not the roots of the problems," an Arab diplomat said.
Israeli air strikes over the last week have killed at least 34 Palestinians, medical officials said in Gaza. Militant groups said 23 of the dead were fighters. During the fierce internal fighting in Gaza, Hamas accused Israel of launching air strikes to bolster Fatah.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said Israel must first stop its attacks on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank before the group and other factions could consider halting their own strikes.
"We cannot talk about calm while the Israeli aggression is continuing. When Israel stops all forms of aggression against our people, then Palestinian factions could consider this issue," he said.
(Additional reporting by Avida Landau in Jerusalem and Wafa Amr in Ramallah)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
- For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet