September 27, 2005

Israeli missiles hit Gaza

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Israel fired more missiles into Gaza on
Tuesday and vowed no respite in an offensive to halt renewed
cross-border rocket salvoes by Palestinian militants two weeks
after its withdrawal from the territory.

After air strikes destroyed two bridges and two buildings
Israel said were used by militants, Defense Minister Shaul
Mofaz said militants "will be hit again and again until they
understand there are new rules to the game."

Israel launched a new air strike after darkness fell on
Tuesday, firing at a site in northern Gaza from where
Palestinians have launched rockets at Israel, the army said.

Palestinian militants struck back, sending another rocket
crashing into southern Israel, the Israeli army said. Israeli
media said a second rocket had hit some hours earlier. There
were no casualties in any of the incidents.

Mofaz did not rule out an incursion back into Gaza or
artillery fire, and said Israel could assassinate leaders of
the biggest militant group Hamas just as it tracked down and
killed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 2004.

"Until it is quiet, the terrorist organizations won't know
any quiet," Mofaz said on a tour of Israeli troops deployed
with artillery guns facing Gaza.

"If the Hamas organization, Mahmoud al-Zahar, or Ismail
Haniyah and the others continue with rocket fire, we will send
them to the same place as Rantissi and Yassin. Let there be no
doubt about it."

After Mofaz spoke, a political leader of Islamic Jihad said
it and other militant groups would abide once again by an
informal truce. But the group's armed wing claimed
responsibility for a rocket launched at Israel, though another
spokesman denied this.

The confusion underlined the factional chaos in Gaza
confronting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he seeks to
make Gaza a peaceful proving ground for a state following 38
years of Israeli occupation.

A relapse into heavy fighting after a ceasefire that has
generally held for eight months would batter international
hopes for reviving Middle East peacemaking raised by Israel's

Mofaz's warning attested to pressure on Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon from his restive right-wing Likud party to prove
that the pullout he billed as "disengagement" from conflict
with Palestinians would improve, not undermine, Israel's


Likud's executive on Monday narrowly voted down a motion by
Sharon's rightist rival Benjamin Netanyahu to bring forward a
party leadership election to November in a bid to unseat the
premier in protest over the evacuation of Gaza.

Despite the vote, Sharon faces a real risk of defeat to
Netanyahu in a Likud leadership contest now set for April, if
there is no lasting halt to Palestinian violence.

The next general election must be held by November 2006.

After a weekend volley of 40 rockets into Israel, Islamic
Jihad political leader Khaled al-Batsh said it and other groups
had agreed at a meeting to "renew our commitment to calm while
reserving the right to respond if Israel continued its

He was referring to arrest raids in which troops have
sometimes shot dead militants, as well as air strikes. Lethal
raids have often been followed by rocket fire from Gaza.

Israeli troops rounded up 84 suspected militants in the
West Bank on Tuesday, bringing to over 300 the number arrested
since Sharon ordered a crackdown on armed factions last

Most Israelis backed Sharon's uprooting of all 21 Jewish
settlements in Gaza after 38 years of occupation. They agreed
it made sense to extract 8,500 settlers who tied down Israeli
army divisions guarding them from 1.4 million Palestinians.

Netanyahu argued that the withdrawal would turn Gaza into a
militant base.

Sharon has tried to placate Likud hardliners by vowing that
Israel will never cede large settlement blocs in the West Bank,
where 245,000 Jews live isolated from 2.4 million Palestinians.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Likud
vote was an internal Israeli matter and added: "We invite Mr
Sharon to resume final-status talks so we can reach the end

Palestinians are keen to launch negotiations based on a
U.S.-devised "road map" peace plan for a Palestinian state in
Gaza and the West Bank. Israel rejects such talks before
Palestinians disarm militants opposed to a negotiated solution.

(Writing by Mark Heinrich in Jerusalem, additional
reporting by Corinne Heller and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem,
and Wafa Amr in Ramallah)