May 26, 2007 / 12:12 AM / in 11 years

Israel pushes Gaza offensive amid rocket attacks

GAZA (Reuters) - Israel pressed ahead with an air offensive in Gaza on Saturday, killing five Hamas militants, and arrested another Palestinian cabinet minister in the West Bank as Gaza militants fired more rockets into Israel.

The recent surge of violence has dashed hopes for a renewed truce called for by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose secular Fatah group is part of a unity government with Hamas despite Israeli and Western opposition to the Islamist group.

Israel’s latest air strikes in Gaza around 2100 GMT (1600 EST) destroyed structures used by a Hamas-led security force, wounding eight passers-by. Earlier strikes also targeted buildings used by the group and killed five Hamas militants.

Israel has killed more than 40 Palestinians, mainly militants, in Gaza since mid-May. Gaza militants have fired 220 rockets into Israel in the same period, including some on Saturday. An Israeli woman died in an attack earlier this week.

Most of the West has launched an aid embargo against the Palestinian government, demanding Hamas, which won a parliamentary election last year, renounce violence and recognize Israel and past Palestinian peace agreements with it.

“Our message to the Zionist enemy is that you have no future on our land,” Abu Ubaida al-Jarrah, chief commander of Hamas’s Executive Force, said in a broadcast on the militant group’s radio station aired during a funeral for the fighters killed.

SHOOTOUT

In a rare incident, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian gunmen during a shootout in Arab East Jerusalem. Two Israeli officers were wounded, medics said. Israeli police said a third Palestinian was also injured in the crossfire.

Palestinians search for dead bodies under the rubble of a destroyed compound used by Hamas's Executive Force after an Israeli air strike in Gaza May 26, 2007. Israel pounded Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing at least four fighters, and seized a minister in Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's cabinet, stepping up a campaign against the ruling Islamists. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

There was no claim of responsibility from militant groups.

Dozens of Israeli troops later raided two West Bank villages south of Jerusalem, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, in search of militants, witnesses said. The Israeli army confirmed troops were conducting sweeps in the area.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Earlier, Israeli troops detained a Palestinian cabinet minister in the West Bank, following a similar roundup of officials from the group earlier this week.

Israel conducted similar raids last year in a bid to put pressure on Hamas after it won the parliamentary election. Hamas had waged a suicide bombing campaign against the Jewish state for years.

Abbas wants both sides to agree to a new ceasefire with Israel as a step towards reviving peace talks. Hamas has resisted his call.

“This aggression will not achieve its goals but it will lead to further escalations that will have dangerous consequences,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, of Hamas.

Israeli officials doubt any truce will last if Hamas can continue smuggling arms into Gaza from Egypt.

Although they are partners in government, fighting between Hamas and Fatah has killed some 50 Palestinians this month and tension remains high.

Additional reporting by Wael al-Ahmad in Jenin; Wafa Amr in Ramallah; and Corinne Heller, Avida Landau, Dan Williams and Adam Entous in Jerusalem

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