Israel continues Gaza strikes after deadly blitz

Israeli war planes on Tuesday carried out raids on the north of the Gaza Strip, killing two Palestinians and wounding two others, a Palestinian medical source said.

Israel had vowed on Monday to keep hitting Gaza, even as troops pulled out of the Hamas-run territory after clashes that killed more than 120 Palestinians and dealt a major blow to Middle East peace talks.

A first raid against Gaza City killed one person while the second further north killed one and wounded two. The victims were not immediately identified.

A military spokesperson in Tel Aviv said that the Israeli air force had “attacked a group of terrorists who were preparing to fire rockets at Israel”.

An Israeli military source said a rocket fired from the Beit Hanoun district north of Gaza City on Tuesday had smashed into a house in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, but nobody was hurt.

“We are not prepared to show any tolerance, period. And we will respond.
Our reaction is not limited to a specific operation or day,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a meeting of his Kadima party in Jerusalem on Monday.

“The operation will not end before we achieve our goals, and our first goal is a significant reduction of Qassam and Grad rocket fire against Israeli civilians,” he said, referring to rockets used by Gaza militants.

In northern Gaza, residents ventured from their homes to pick through the rubble after the deadliest Israeli military blitz on the territory in years.

“My whole life I have never seen massacres like this,” cried Aisha Abid Rabah (82), raising her hands to the sky as she sat on a demolished door in the northern town of Jabaliya, which bore the brunt of the Israeli strikes.

The bloody assault earned Israel international condemnation and caused moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to cut contacts with the Israelis, though on Monday he reiterated his willingness to seek a truce.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, holding talks in Israel, urged the Palestinians to resume peace talks despite the bloodshed.

“We have a process that cannot be stopped, that must be recuperated,” Solana told CNN. He said Abbas “has to be the one that returns to the table of negotiations”.

Meanwhile, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Cairo in her latest bid to boost peace efforts, which have been stalled since the two sides formally relaunched peace talks at a US conference in November.

Since a dramatic escalation in violence last Wednesday, at least 121 Palestinians, including 22 children and dozens of militants, have been killed, according to Gaza Health Ministry statistics. More than 350 were wounded.

Two Israeli soldiers were also killed in the clashes and one Israeli civilian died in a rocket attack launched by Gaza militants.

A militant from Islamic Jihad was killed in an Israeli missile strike on the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun late on Monday, medics said, while Egypt said two Palestinians seriously wounded in Gaza had died in Egyptian hospitals.

Israel launched the operation on Saturday in a bid to stop near-daily rocket fire from Gaza, where the Islamist Hamas movement—which is sworn to Israel’s destruction—seized power in June by routing pro-Abbas forces.

But as has been the case with previous Israeli operations, this one failed to halt the rocket fire—two projectiles fell in the coastal city of Ashkelon on Monday, slightly wounding one woman, medics said.

Hamas, which admitted to losing three dozen fighters in the clashes, held a victory march in Gaza City claiming victory over Israeli forces.

A senior Israeli military intelligence official told MPs that over 20 Katyusha-type rockets—also known as Grad—were fired from Gaza since Thursday.

The army claimed all the long-range rockets fired at Israel in recent days were Iranian-made.

The violence in and around Gaza sharply escalated early on Wednesday when an Israeli air raid killed five Hamas militants and Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets, one of which killed a civilian in southern Israel.

It was the first such death since May 2007. Rocket fire has killed 14 civilians inside Israel since 2000.

The clashes peaked on Saturday when Israel sent a regiment of ground troops into the northern town of Jabaliya in an operation dubbed “Hot Winter”, which killed 77 Palestinians in two days.—AFP

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