Israel strikes Hamas in Gaza, threatens more action

GAZA Fri May 18, 2007 6:37pm EDT

1 of 19. An injured Palestinian shouts following an Israeli air strike in Gaza May 18, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammed Salem

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GAZA (Reuters) - Israel struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday and threatened more strong action to stop rocket attacks while Palestinian rival factions fought each other in turmoil verging on civil war.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction has been accused by Hamas of siding with Israel, called U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and asked her to halt an Israeli "military escalation", a Palestinian news agency said.

A Palestinian hospital official said at least one man was killed and others were wounded when Israeli helicopter gunships fired on them after they launched a rocket into Israel.

The military said it attacked a rocket crew in northern Gaza and that 10 missiles had struck Israel. One hit a house in the town of Sderot. Medics said there were only minor injuries.

Hours later, Israeli aircraft bombed a Hamas-owned van in Gaza City. Two militants were killed, hospital officials said. Five other air strikes wounded four Palestinians, two of them Hamas men and the others civilians, hospital officials said.

Fatah and Hamas forces, locked in fighting for the past week, battled again in Gaza City. Three rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the pro-Hamas Islamic University campus.

Two militants -- one from each side -- were killed, hospital officials said. A fisherman was also killed after being caught in crossfire. Hospital officials said two other civilians died from wounds sustained during internal clashes earlier this week.

Abu Dhabi Television's Gaza station said Hamas gunmen kidnapped bureau chief Abdel Salam Abu Askar, and released him shortly afterwards. Hamas denied involvement.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, called on Palestinians to unite against "Israeli aggression" and cease internal fighting.

"All members of the security services should abide by the instructions of the political leadership and return to their positions and bases, and also all gunmen should pull out of the streets," Haniyeh told reporters.

Truces agreed by the Islamist Hamas and the more secular Fatah over the past week have collapsed swiftly. Nearly 50 people have died in the deadliest internal violence since the two rival groups formed a unity government in March.

"VIBRANT MEASURES"

In Tel Aviv, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told foreign ambassadors the government might decide on further action within days and noted the cabinet would meet as usual on Sunday.

"We will see sustained and vibrant measures to end the rocket attacks and remove the threat to southern Israel," government spokesman David Baker said.

Israeli forces have recently completed training for a possible ground offensive in Gaza, from which they and Israeli settlers withdrew in 2005.

Tanks and some other troops took up positions just inside the crowded coastal enclave on Thursday in a move the military called "defensive".

At least 11 Hamas fighters have been killed in Israeli strikes since early on Thursday. Militants from Gaza have fired about 100 rockets at the town of Sderot and its surroundings in the past week, causing several injuries but no deaths.

"For too long the international community took this situation in the southern part of Israel as acceptable, as part of life in Israel, and it's not. Enough is enough," Livni said, saying there was a need to put pressure "on these terrorists".

Abbas was quoted by Wafa news agency as asking Rice "to stop the Israeli military escalation against our people and continue their efforts to push the peace process forward".

(Additional reporting by Avida Landau and Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem)

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