GAZA (Reuters) - Israel killed seven Palestinians in a series of air strikes in Gaza on Saturday, including three senior Islamic Jihad militants and a rocket manufacturer for a wing of Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group.
Israel’s six successive attacks aimed at tightening its military pressure on the Hamas-ruled territory it wants to isolate, came three days after an offensive in which 12 Palestinians were killed in the coastal territory.
An Israeli military spokesman confirmed three aerial attacks in Gaza, among them one that targeted a car of Gaza militants he said were involved in plotting a suicide bombing and in past attacks against Israel, and another against a weapons depot.
Palestinian security sources and witnesses said the three militants killed in the first strike in the town of Khan Younis were commanders of the Islamic Jihad group in Gaza.
The militants were identified as Raed and Zeyad Ghannam and Mohamed al-Rai. Israel and Islamic Jihad said the three were long wanted by Israel for rocket firings and other attacks dating back to before Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
The second Israeli air strike killed the local commander of a rocket production crew with the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades of Abbas’s secular Fatah faction, whose forces were routed by Hamas Islamists in Gaza two weeks ago, the brigades said.
The commander’s son and two employees of his metal shop also died in the strike, the group added in its statement.
Israel has bombed metal foundries in the past, alleging they produce rockets fired at Israel, but witnesses said Saturday’s attack was the first carried out during working hours rather than late at night when they were unstaffed.
An Israeli warplane later staged two successive raids at the same site where crowds had gathered after darkness fell, wounding five Palestinians, including four members of Hamas’s executive force and a civilian, medics said.
Two rockets fired from Gaza shortly after the air strikes stuck in the Israeli town of Sderot, injuring one Israeli, the army said.
Hamas rejected Abbas’s call for the deployment of international troops in Gaza, vowing to attack them like other “occupation forces”.
Abbas told French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a visit to Paris on Friday he wanted international peacekeepers to deploy in Gaza to ensure free elections can be held there.
“An international force is not acceptable to us,” said Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-led government dismissed by Abbas.
Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, threatened to attack international troops.
“We will not allow any foreign forces to set foot in the Gaza Strip and we will deal with them as occupation forces,” Qassam Brigades said.
Qassam Brigades said it believed Abbas only supported the deployment of international troops to undercut the group’s control over Gaza.
The United States and Israel have sought to isolate Gaza while bolstering Abbas’s emergency cabinet in the West Bank which he named after sacking the unity government with Hamas.
Israel, the European Union and the United Nations have said they were open to consider an international force for Gaza.
But Israeli officials and Western diplomats doubt major powers will agree to send forces into Gaza with a mandate to act against militants, as demanded by Israel.