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05 Feb 2008 15:20
Israeli forces killed at least eight Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, a day after a suicide bombing in Israel claimed by the Islamist group.
Six of the Hamas men were killed by an air strike on a security post in southern Gaza and two other armed members of the movement were shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the border with Egypt.
The Israeli military said it was responding to Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel.
Israeli sonic booms shook windows in Gaza City, fraying nerves and raising fears of an intensive Israeli military campaign in retaliation for Monday’s bombing in the desert town of Dimona.
A senior member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s party, Tzachi Hanegbi, urged the Israeli government to step up its fight against Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip in June, by assassinating the group’s political leaders.
A Hamas security officer said its members were ordered to take “all necessary precautions”, including turning off cellphones that could be tracked by Israeli drones that routinely fly over the Gaza Strip.
Hamas’s armed wing claimed responsibility for the Dimona bombing, which killed an Israeli woman, a Hamas source in the Gaza Strip told Reuters. It was the first such attack claimed by the group since 2004.
The bomber and another attacker, shot by police before he could detonate his explosives belt, were also killed.
The Hamas source said the two men came from the West Bank town of Hebron.
Despite the suicide attack, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held talks hours later in a reaffirmation of United States-backed efforts to achieve a statehood deal.
Hamas, which opposes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s peace talks with Israel, called the Dimona bombing retaliation for Israeli raids.
Describing the latest air strike, Hamas officials said men in the security position had been holding afternoon prayers when missiles struck.
Israel assassinated top Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in the Gaza Strip in 2004, killings that Hanegbi said had a “direct effect on the motivation of the Hamas leadership to continue to carry out suicide attacks”.
The Israeli military has since largely refrained from targeting Hamas’s political wing but has struck repeatedly against the Islamist movement’s field commanders.
“[Hamas’s political leaders] have evidently forgotten the bitter fate [of Yassin and Rantissi] and therefore we should add the current leaders of the organisation to that list,” Hanegbi said.
“There is no difference between those who wear a suicide suit and a diplomat’s suit,” he said.
Commenting on Hanegbi’s remarks, Taher al-Nono, a spokesperson for Gaza-based Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh, said: “The threats are part of continuing Israeli terrorism and crimes aimed at achieving political gains.” - Reuters
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