July 16, 2005

Fresh Israeli air strikes in Gaza

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Israel launched fresh missile strikes in
Gaza early on Saturday, a day after it killed six Hamas
militants, and vowed to keep targeting gunmen to prevent rocket
attacks ahead of its withdrawal from Gaza next month. The
latest air raid injured two Palestinian bystanders and
destroyed three workshops in Gaza City and the Khan Younis
refugee camp, which the army said was used by Hamas to produce
weapons. Palestinians denied weapons were produced there.

Militants hit back on Saturday morning, firing two rockets
at the Israeli town of Sderot, near the Gaza Strip. One of the
rockets slammed into the courtyard of a house but nobody was
hurt, the army said. The other landed in an empty field.

One Israeli woman has been killed and two others wounded in
rocket barrages on Israeli towns and villages near Gaza over
the past two days. The Israeli army said since Thursday
militants have fired 25 rockets and 52 mortars.

The flare-up of violence in Gaza and the West Bank, which
began on Tuesday when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed five
people in an attack in the coastal town of Netanya, has badly
undermined a cessation to hostilities declared by Israel and
the Palestinian Authority in February.

It has also raised the prospect of a disruption to Israel's
planned pullout of 8,500 settlers from occupied Gaza next month
which had stirred new hopes of reviving Middle East peace.

Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef said the
Israeli missile strikes were unjustified and would create more
tension. He added that the Palestinian leadership was trying to
salvage the truce which he said no faction had the right to

Faced with a collapsing truce, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice arranged an unscheduled visit to Israel and
the Palestinian territories next week to "encourage both sides
to take appropriate seps to restore order," a spokesman said.

"They need to make (a) maximum effort ... both individually
and working together, to ensure that this withdrawal is a
successful withdrawal," said Sean McCormack, State Department


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said the army would put a
stop to rocket barrages and attacks by Gaza militants ahead of
the withdrawal which is scheduled to begin in mid-August with
the evacuation of all 21 settlements in Gaza.

Israeli military officials have said in the past they would
carry out wide-scale raids and possibly reoccupy Palestinian
areas near the settlements due to be evacuated to prevent the
withdrawal from taking place under fire.

Israel massed several military vehicles around Gaza late on
Friday and news reports quoted security sources as saying the
Jewish state might raid militant strongholds in the area in the
coming days to try to stop rocket launchers.

"The pullout can not commence under fire," Sharon told
Channel 2 television in an interview on Friday night.

On Friday, an Israeli missile killed a Hamas militant in
the West Bank and troops shot dead his comrade after he escaped
and fired at them. A second raid killed four gunmen in a car in
Gaza, which Hamas officials said carried makeshift rockets.

Hamas, sworn to Israel's destruction, has warned that the
air strikes would "open the doors of hell" on Israel and said
it was reconsidering its commitment to honoring the truce.

(Additional reporting by Megan Goldin, Corinne Heller and
Mohammed Assadi)