Thu, May 24, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Hamas ignores Israeli threats

TENSIONS HIGH The rockets kept falling in southern Israel yesterday, a day after the Jewish nation's defense minister said that no one was immune from retaliatory strikes

AP , JERUSALEM

Hamas militants defied Israeli airstrikes and threats to kill their top leaders, firing more rockets into Israel, as the Palestinian president arrived in Gaza in an effort to defuse the escalating conflict.

Members of the Islamic militant group fired two rockets shortly after sunset on Tuesday into the battered Israeli town of Sderot where a woman died in an attack the day before.

Tuesday's salvo caused no casualities but Israel responded instantly, with a helicopter gunship strafing the launch site and wounding three people. Palestinians could not say if they were firing rockets at the time.

Israel's deputy defense minister threatened on Tuesday to target Hamas political leaders, calling them "terrorists in suits" after a rocket attack by the Islamic militant group killed an Israeli woman.

The harsh words were backed up by action. Israel airstrikes on Tuesday and early yesterday targeted four suspected arms caches and three other Hamas facilities across Gaza.

Palestinian officials said a total of 16 people were wounded, among them a pregnant woman and a teenage boy living next to the site of a strike in the early hours yesterday on an unoccupied building in Jabaliya, in northern Gaza, who were hurt by blast and flying shrapnel.

An Israeli military statement said the target was a Hamas arms dump and that "secondary explosions were identified," an apparent reference to exploding ordnance.

The 31-year-old woman who died on Monday night was the first Israeli killed by a Palestinian rocket since November, inviting a harsh response. Militants fired nine more rockets at Israel on Tuesday, slightly wounding two people, the army said.

Israeli leaders suggested that even Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas could be targeted in reprisals.

"We don't care if he's a ringleader, a perpetrator of rocket launching or if he is one of the political leaders," Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said. "No one has immunity."

Wary of Israeli strikes, leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza have lowered their profiles, turning off cellphones and staying off the streets.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri threatened harsh retaliation if the group's leaders were attacked.

"Harming ... any of Hamas' leadership will cost the occupation dearly," he said. "This will mean responses." He did not elaborate.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of the Fatah movement, traveled from his West Bank headquarters to Gaza for talks with Hamas leadership in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a truce with Israel and rein in factional bloodletting between the two factions.

Abbas himself is seen as a potential target of Hamas. Witnesses said he entered the strip on Tuesday evening in a motorcade of dozens of vehicles bristling with armed guards, while presidential security forces locked down central Gaza thoroughfares and marksmen staked out rooftop vantage points along the route to his seafront official residence.

Fatah officials said Abbas would meet Haniyeh but would not divulge the timing or location, citing security concerns.

After a six-month lull, Israel resumed airstrikes on militant targets in Gaza last yesterday in response to heavy rocket fire. More than 40 Palestinians, most of them militants, have been killed.

Despite Israeli vows of harsh retaliation in response to Monday night's Sderot attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged there was no quick solution for the rocket barrages.

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