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Sunday, July 17, 2005

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Hamas 'commander' killed in Gaza

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Hamas 'commander' killed in Gaza Hamas 'commander' killed in Gaza
Israeli forces have shot dead a member of the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian witnesses say.

The reports came as Israel said it was preparing to launch a ground offensive in the area to stop rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

Deputy Defence Secretary Zeev Boim told public radio Israeli troops could intervene "within the next few hours".

He said Israel had lost faith in Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has condemned recent militant attacks.

He has also urged Palestinians to observe a ceasefire with Israel.

No one trusts Abu Mazen anymore," said Mr Boim, referring to Mr Abbas. "We are going for a broad operation in Gaza."

What is certain is we will not tolerate the rain of rockets
Zeev Boim
Israel Deputy Defence Minister

Mr Abbas has blamed Israel for effectively undermining the ceasefire, but warned Palestinian groups that he would not tolerate renewed infighting or new attacks against Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has promised a "strong and harsh" response to the return of attacks on Israelis.

No tolerance

In the latest attacks, two rockets were fired by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel early on Sunday without hurting anybody or causing damage, an Israeli spokesman said.

The fresh violence began with a series of Palestinian rocket attacks on an Israeli town, in which one woman died, and a suicide bombing that killed six Israelis - the first in four months.

Asked about the possibility of an Israeli intervention in Gaza, Mr Boim replied:

"That depends on what happens in the next few hours. What is certain is we will not tolerate the rain of rockets."

Israeli troops have been massing on the border with Gaza.

On Saturday, Israeli aircraft hit targets in Gaza, wounding two people.

One Israeli missile hit a workshop in the east of the city and another was aimed at a storeroom near the sea.

Israeli air strikes on Friday killed five Palestinians, four of them Hamas militants.

The escalating tension has left the ceasefire, declared several months ago, in tatters, the BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza City says.

US pullout fears

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit the region next week to urge an end to the new upsurge in violence.

Ms Rice added the stop onto a planned trip to Africa after the breakdown of the ceasefire, agreed in February.

It will be her third to Israel and the Palestinian territories in the space of five months.

It is a sign of increasing concern in the US that Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza next month could be disrupted because of the violence, the BBC's state department correspondent Jonathan Beale says.

"All parties need to make a maximum effort to see that this disengagement process is a success," state department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Israel has occupied Gaza and the West Bank since 1967.

Approximately 8,500 settlers and the soldiers that protect them are due to be withdrawn from Gaza. Israel will maintain control over Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace.

About 630 settlers will also be removed from four small West Bank settlements.

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