GAZA (Reuters) - Israel killed two Hamas militants in an air strike in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and said it was not considering a ceasefire with the Islamist group despite appeals from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Noting a “relative decrease in Qassam rocket launchings”, Israel’s security cabinet decided to keep up “attacks and military pressure on terrorist groups, mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad”, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said in a statement.
“It was emphasized (at the meeting) that Israel is not conducting any negotiations for a ceasefire with the terrorist organizations,” the statement said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman, describing the early morning air strike in Gaza, said a “group of armed terrorists” was targeted near Jabalya refugee camp.
In addition to the two members of Hamas’s Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades killed in the attack, several people were wounded and a house was damaged, ambulance crews said.
On Tuesday, Abbas — from the rival Fatah movement to Hamas — proposed a truce covering the Gaza Strip, and then extending the ceasefire to the occupied West Bank within a month.
Hamas, which won power in elections last year but formed a unity government with Fatah two months ago, says any ceasefire must include an immediate end to all Israeli attacks in both territories, a demand rejected repeatedly by Israel.
“We in the Palestinian government are in favor of a reciprocal and simultaneous calm ... in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. The ball is now in the Israeli court,” Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said after meeting Abbas in Gaza.
Abbas will meet Olmert on June 7 and prospects for any revival of peacemaking have been clouded by the current surge of violence. An Olmert spokeswoman said the talks could take place in the Palestinian-ruled West Bank city of Jericho.
The Quartet of Middle East mediators — the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — said on Wednesday it planned to meet Israel and the Palestinians next month as well as the Arab League in a bid to revive peace hopes.
After a meeting in Berlin, the Quartet expressed strong concern over violence between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza as well as between Israel and the Palestinians. It called on all sides to respect a ceasefire.
Hamas and other militant groups have fired more than 270 rockets from Gaza over the past two weeks, killing two Israelis. Israel has hit back mainly with air strikes, killing nearly 50 Palestinians, most of them militants.
In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces detained the mayor of a small town near Nablus as part of a crackdown on Hamas politicians in the territory. Dozens of Hamas officials have been seized since last week.
Two Palestinians were killed and two were wounded when a car exploded in Nablus on Wednesday, witnesses and hospital officials said. The Israeli military said it knew of no Israeli action in Nablus at the time of the blast.
In an interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal defended the rocket attacks and said the conflict might be heading towards an explosion.
“The Palestinians are steadfast,” he said.
“Now the international community is trying to undermine Hamas. That will lead to an explosion that will be in the face of the Israeli occupation. The damage will affect the stability of the entire region.”
Meshaal was apparently referring to crippling Western sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority to pressure Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace deals.
The Abbas-Haniyeh meeting focused on efforts to shore up a shaky ceasefire between Hamas and Fatah after fierce factional fighting killed about 50 Palestinians earlier this month.