ISRAEL ‘COMMITTING CRIMES AND TERROR’ – against Palestinians in Gaza

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Israeli jets fired missiles at a car in Gaza City on Saturday night, killing three people, said the Israeli army. It claimed at least two of them were Hamas fighters.

Palestinian medics said four people were killed, three of them civilians.

Missiles were also fired at metal workshops that the Israelis claimed were being used to make bombs elsewhere in Gaza.

The latest air strikes came as Hamas and its rival Fatah movement, announced another cease-fire in an effort to curb bloody infighting in Gaza.

Israel’s air strikes on the Gaza Strip last week were a ‘very measured’ response to Palestinian rocket attacks, claimed its ambassador to Washington on Friday, warning Israel could take ‘other actions’ if necessary.

Ambassador Sallai Meridor told reporters: ‘Our response so far has been very measured because we understand the game plan of the other side, because we carefully assess the different options.

‘But the situation is very volatile and the trend is very negative, which may necessitate other actions in the future – or not so much in the future, depending on the developments.’

Israel resumed air attacks on Gaza last Tuesday for the first time in six months, it says in response to continuing Palestinian rocket fire.

Up until Friday, the strikes had killed seventeen Palestinians including two teenagers.

More than 50 rockets fired from Gaza have struck Israeli territory in recent days, wounding six civilians and driving hundreds of people from the town of Sederot, which has borne the brunt of the barrage.

Ambassador Meridor did not say what ‘other actions’ Israel could take, but an Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity indicated that the Israeli army, which abandoned Gaza in September 2005 after 38 years of occupation, could re-enter the Palestinian territory.

Since Tuesday, 106 Kassam rockets and 31 mortar rounds have been fired on Israeli settlements near the Gaza Strip, the official said.

‘We are reaching the point of strategic decisions,’ the official said, noting that ‘Hamas today is the dominating force in the Gaza strip.’

Israel bombed Hamas targets in Gaza last Thursday and Friday as rival Palestinian factions continued to battle in the streets of the impoverished coastal strip.

Hamas accused Israel of launching the strikes to help its rival Fatah movement, headed by the Western-backed president Mahmud Abbas, and has warned that it could retaliate with suicide attacks.

‘Israeli occupation forces are bombarding Hamas headquarters and the Presidential Guard is bombarding the Islamic University,’ Fawzi Barhum, Hamas movement spokesman, said.

‘We wonder where the Presidential Guard get their orders.’

Mushir al-Masri, Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member for Hamas, on Friday warned the Israeli government of the consequences of continuing its military operation in the Gaza Strip.

He said: ‘The resistance and the Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades know that the continuation of the aggression against Gaza means that all options are open.

‘The enemy bears the responsibility for escalating its military aggression against the Gaza Strip.’

In a televised interview, Al-Masri said: ‘The conspiracy against Hamas has become clear.

‘The aim is to overthrow it and extinguish the flame of Jihad in the hearts of Palestinians through an open-ended war by the Zionist enemy, which is committing crimes and terror against Hamas members and the Palestinian people.’

Al-Masri noted that the Hamas initiative to declare a unilateral cease-fire stems from a position of power rather than from a position of weakness.

Following Thursday’s attacks, Israeli aircraft again launched a series of air strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza early on Friday, killing at least ten people.

Avihay Edri, an Israel Defence Forces spokesman, said on Friday that the Israel Air Force is directly targeting the infrastructure of Hamas, including all its factions by whatever names they go, including the Executive Force and the Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

Israeli jets pummelled Hamas targets, with the first of six strikes hitting the headquarters of a paramilitary force, killing one person and wounding 30.

Barely two hours later, a Hamas fighter was killed when Israeli aircraft fired on a car in Gaza City.

A house was targeted in another strike that left another Hamas member dead while a fourth strike on a car in the Sufa area, one of the crossing points between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip, killed two brothers aged 14 and 16.

Their 17-year-old sister was gravely wounded.

A fifth air strike killed a militant preparing to fire a rocket into Israel, an Israeli army spokesman alleged.

A sixth strike in the early hours of Friday killed four people and wounded another four in Gaza City, according to Palestinian medics.

About 15 Israeli tanks also advanced across the border into Gaza near the former settlement of Dugit, a Palestinian security official said.

An Israeli military spokesman said only that ‘some tanks entered the northern Gaza Strip in a defensive move, without going far from the barrier’ separating the territory from Israel.

The army also deployed a battery of 155mm artillery facing the Gaza Strip.

Israeli aircraft struck a Hamas target in southern Gaza in the afternoon, witnesses said, but no details on casualties were immediately available.

Life in Gaza has come to a standstill with stores shuttered, schools shut and masked gunmen roaming the streets and stopping the rare cars on the roads.

‘For one week, death strikes us from everywhere,’ said Um Hossam of Gaza City.

Israel’s actions threatened to further exacerbate tensions in Gaza, turned into a war zone by five days of battles between rival Fatah and Hamas fighters that has driven the Palestinian unity government to the brink of collapse.

The Israeli strikes provoked threats from Hamas of a new wave of attacks.

Hamas has accused the Zionist state of launching the strikes to help its rival Fatah movement, headed by president Mahmud Abbas, and has warned that it could retaliate with suicide strikes.

‘All options against the Zionist enemy are open, including suicide attacks,’ Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Obeida warned.

Nearly 50 rockets fired by Gaza militants have landed inside Israel in recent days, wounding six civilians, with eight more hitting on Friday, police said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni played the ‘poor little Israel’ card and called on the ‘international community’ to pressure Gaza militants to stop the launchings.

She told dozens of foreign ambassadors in Tel Aviv: ‘I think that for too long the international community took the situation in the southern part of Israel as acceptable, as part of life in Israel.’

Signalling more Israeli attacks, she added: ‘But it’s not, and enough is enough,’

US President George W Bush urged all parties to work toward a two-state solution and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference called for UN intervention.

Malaysia, the chair of the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference, said that ‘all this violence must stop – the United Nations must intervene.’

In a phone call with Palestinian president Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah II expressed ‘deep concern’ and urged the Palestinians ‘to unite their front and exercise self restraint as well as put differences aside’.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa said, in order for the Palestinian infighting to end, the Israeli occupation authorities must lift the blockade.

In statements on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Jordan’s Dead Sea, Musa said the US has to change its policy in the region and the Israeli government has to positively respond to the Arab peace initiative, noting the situation in the region was ‘very bad’.

Commenting on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s call to hold direct meetings with Arab leaders, Musa said there was no need for protocol visits and media coverage of meetings that lead us nowhere.