Israeli attack destroys Hamas building

Israeli air strikes on Thursday destroyed a Hamas security headquarters and a car carrying one of the Islamist group’s top commanders in a powerful response to rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

At least one Hamas militant was killed and more than 40 others were wounded in two air strikes.

Smoke rose from what remained of the downtown office building that housed Hamas’s Executive Force, which has been locked in fierce street battles for six days with fighters loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah faction.

About two hours later, an Israeli air strike on a car killed at least one Hamas militant. The vehicle was also carrying a senior commander in Hamas’s armed wing. Ambulance crews said he was critically wounded.

Despite a ceasefire deal brokered by Abbas and Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal, three Palestinians were killed in renewed internal fighting on Thursday, raising the death toll since Friday to at least 43.

Hamas’s armed wing threatened to resume suicide bombings in Israel after the Gaza attack levelled the multi-storey concrete structure.
A Hamas bomber last struck in Israel in 2004.

Israel’s military has denied its attacks on Hamas installations are in any way connected to the factional violence, which has brought Palestinians to the verge of all-out civil war. Hamas has accused Israel of doing Fatah’s bidding.

Hospital officials said at least 40 people were wounded in the attack on the Executive Force facility. Witnesses said people were still trapped under the collapsed multi-storey structure.

“We have had enough. Israel will take all defensive measures to protect our citizens from these Hamas rockets,” Miri Eisin, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said before the air strike.

At least two Israelis were lightly wounded by rocket salvoes in the southern town of Sderot, near the Gaza border.

Clash

Earlier on Thursday, at least one Palestinian was killed in a clash between Hamas and Fatah gunmen in the Gaza Strip, despite a ceasefire deal agreed to late on Wednesday.

An Israeli army spokesperson said a small number of tanks and armoured vehicles moved into the Gaza Strip “but they have not gone in for an offensive operation”.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed since Friday in the latest round of factional violence, the most serious since the two groups formed a unity government two months ago.

The fighting has worsened living conditions for Palestinians hard hit by Western sanctions against the Hamas-led government. Olmert has ruled out serious peace negotiations so long as the government refuses to recognise Israel and renounce violence.

Abbas called off plans to travel to Gaza on Thursday for crisis talks with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. It was unclear how the Hamas-Fatah unity government would survive and function given the mounting violence and resentment.

Israel’s daytime air strike in the heart of Gaza City came one day after Israel hit an Executive Force building in southern Gaza and a rocket-launching crew, killing five people.

The Israeli government had earlier threatened a “severe” response to rocket attacks on Israel that have persisted despite Israel’s troop and settler pull-out from Gaza in 2005.

Olmert, struggling to stay in office after an official report sharply criticised his handling of last year’s war in Lebanon, is under heavy domestic pressure to stop the rockets without getting bogged down in another inconclusive conflict.

At the same time, he knows a wide-ranging Israeli military response in Gaza could have a major influence on the course of Fatah’s power struggle with Hamas.—Reuters

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