Israeli Airstrike Kills Five Hamas Gunmen

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 27, 2007

JERUSALEM, May 26 -- Israeli military aircraft fired on a Hamas post Saturday in the Gaza Strip, killing at least five gunmen from the radical Islamic movement, and Israeli troops arrested a Hamas cabinet minister, the second in less than a week.

A 10th day of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and the arrest of Wasfi Kabha, the Palestinian minister of state, underscored Israel's determination to end Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza that has terrorized residents of several border towns in southern Israel.

But the attacks continued Saturday with Hamas gunmen launching at least 12 rockets from Gaza. Israeli military officials said one Israeli civilian was reported wounded.

Israel's military pressure has prompted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a leader of the Fatah faction, to call on the rival Hamas movement and several smaller armed groups to end the attacks. A relative moderate, Abbas has called the rocket fire harmful to the Palestinian national movement.

But his efforts to arrange a month-long cease-fire between the armed groups and Israel in Gaza -- an agreement he has said could later be extended to the West Bank -- have been undermined by the unrelenting cycle of attack and reprisal that has characterized the violence in recent days.

Officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- another armed group that denies Israel's right to exist -- have said they will not stop firing rockets until Israel ends airstrikes in Gaza that have destroyed military posts, money exchange shops and vehicles carrying armed men and weapons.

In a statement Saturday, Hamas urged its gunmen to "direct painful strikes at the Zionist enemy" in response to the Israeli bombing and said it "will not offer a free truce to the Zionist occupation."

Israeli aircraft fired missiles on a post in Zeitun, a town east of Gaza City used by the Executive Force, a Hamas-controlled Palestinian security branch. At least five men identified as Hamas members were killed and several others were wounded in the midday strike.

Within minutes, Israel hit two additional posts in south and central Gaza, and on Saturday evening it hit two more. No injuries were reported in those strikes. About 50 Palestinians, most of them Hamas gunmen, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes in the past 10 days.

During that time, Palestinian gunmen, most of them affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have fired more than 225 crude rockets into southern Israel. The attacks have killed an Israeli woman and seriously wounded several other people. Many more have been treated for shock.

Israeli forces arrested Kabha, 43, a minister in the Palestinian power-sharing government that was formed in March, early Saturday at his home in the West Bank. The arrest marked the latest Israeli move against Hamas's political leadership.

On Thursday, Israel arrested 33 senior Hamas officials, including Education Minister Nasser al-Shaer, in a sweep across the West Bank.

Israel has been holding 38 Hamas legislators in military custody since last June, when they were arrested after gunmen from Hamas and two smaller groups captured an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid from Gaza. The soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, has not been released.

On Saturday evening, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli border police patrol in East Jerusalem, Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.

The four members of the Israeli patrol -- two border police officers and two private security guards -- were wounded during the firefight in the Sheikh Zaid neighborhood, he said. Two Palestinian gunmen were killed. A Palestinian bystander caught in the crossfire also died of his wounds.

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