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jeudi 24 mars 2011

Gaza police report Israeli airstrike, no injuries

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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli aircraft struck militant targets in the Gaza Strip on Thursday in response to rocket and mortar fire, stoking concerns that a grave new round of hostilities will fill the vacuum left by an impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

No injuries were reported in either the fire on Israel or the Israeli attacks on militant training sites, rocket-launching operations and smuggling tunnels.

Two years of relative calm have frayed in recent weeks with acts of violence against Israelis - including a deadly bombing in Jerusalem on Wednesday that killed an unidentified female British tourist - and Israeli reprisals against Gaza militants, which in one case killed four Palestinian civilians.

The violence is the fiercest between the two sides since Israel went to war in Hamas-ruled Gaza more than two years ago to try to curb years of frequent rocket attacks.

Before leaving for a brief trip to Russia, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned militants not to test Israel's "iron will" and vowed a tough response. But he also expressed hope that calm would be restored.

Neither side is thought to be spoiling for a major fight, but the concern is that events will spiral out of control.

In late December 2008, Israel responded to months of intense rocket fire and years of more sporadic attacks with a fierce three-week offensive into Gaza, killing some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis also died in that offensive.

The violently anti-Israel Hamas movement that rules Gaza has largely honored an unofficial truce since then. But the lull has been fraying in recent weeks - and at a particularly fragile diplomatic moment.

Peace talks between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas collapsed after the 2008 war broke out, reviving only briefly for three weeks in September 2010. With no signs that the two sides are making any progress to resume peacemaking, let alone reach a deal, Abbas is pushing to get the international community to recognize a Palestinian state by fall.

Such recognition at the United Nations would not change things on the ground, but could further isolate Israel.

Abbas, who controls only the West Bank, has repeatedly rejected violence as a response to the breakdown in peacemaking.

Hamas, which violently wrested control of Gaza in fighting with Abbas loyalists in June 2007, sees the diplomatic standstill as proof that only an armed struggle against Israel will win the Palestinians a state.


Ibrahim Barzak contributed to this report from Gaza City, Gaza Strip.

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