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Israel Launches Air Strikes on Gaza as Palestinian Factions Agree to Truce

19 May 2007

Israel has launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip for the third straight day, killing two Palestinians. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the air raids occurred as rival Palestinian factions agreed to another ceasefire.

Israeli aircraft pounded suspected targets of the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza, in retaliation for Palestinian rocket attacks. The army said weapons factories and rocket launching squads were among the targets.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz says there is more to come.

Peretz told Israel Radio that military and political leaders of Hamas could also be targeted. He said anyone involved in rocket attacks should be afraid. At the same time, Peretz ruled out a major ground offensive in Gaza.

The air force went into action after Hamas fired dozens of rockets that have terrorized the Israeli border town of Sderot. But despite the air strikes, the rockets keep coming.

Much of Sderot has been evacuated and the streets are empty.

The Israeli air strikes have further complicated the situation in Gaza, where Hamas and the rival Palestinian Fatah faction have engaged in fierce gun battles. Some 50 Palestinians have been killed since fighting began nine days ago. But in a fresh bid to avert civil war, the factions agreed to another ceasefire.

"Maintaining the ceasefire is a vital Palestinian interest and I hope people will adhere to this," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat of Fatah.

Under the deal, both sides will pull their fighters off the streets and exchange hostages. But previous ceasefires have quickly collapsed, and many Palestinians fear that this one will suffer the same fate.

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