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Israel Steps up Air Strikes on Palestinian Militants in Gaza

26 May 2007

Israeli air strikes against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip are now in their tenth day. At least five militants have been killed. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, ceasefire efforts are continuing.

Israel launched a series of air strikes on targets of the Islamic militant group Hamas across Gaza. In one attack, missiles landed near the home of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Trailers used by Mr. Haniyeh's bodyguards were hit, but he was not hurt.

Later, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at five Hamas facilities, just minutes apart. The targets included a Hamas military compound and training bases.

In the West Bank, Israeli troops seized a Hamas cabinet minister, one of more than 30 senior Palestinian officials arrested this week.

The raids are retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks. The army says Palestinians have fired 220 rockets across the Gaza border since May 15.

"Members of the Hamas should know that if they claim responsibility for the attacks, the recent attacks near the Gaza Strip, they will have to bear the consequences," said Israeli spokesman Aviv Shiron.

Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who shares power in a coalition government led by Hamas, is trying to broker a ceasefire. He has urged Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets for a month, during which time he would seek a broader truce with Israel, including all the Palestinian territories.

The previous truce that lasted five months and collapsed 10 days ago only included Gaza.

Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser says that gave militants an excuse to fire rockets at Israel.

"In order not to offer any pretext to those who want to damage or to harm the ceasefire, one step [that] should be done immediately is to declare a total ceasefire between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the West Bank as well as in [the] Gaza Strip," said Nasser.

Hamas says it is considering Mr. Abbas's proposal. But Israel rejects extending the ceasefire to the West Bank, saying army raids there prevent Palestinian suicide bombings in Israeli cities.

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