Israeli Man, Palestinian Child Killed In Attacks

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 6, 2008

JERUSALEM, June 5 -- An Israeli man and a Palestinian child were killed Thursday in separate attacks as Israel and Hamas traded fire in and around the Gaza Strip.

The violence came as Israel prepares to consider a Hamas proposal for a cease-fire, and as the Palestinian Authority weighs reviving negotiations with Hamas toward reconciliation and possible new elections.

The Israeli was a 52-year-old civilian. He was killed just before noon when a mortar shell landed at a paint factory in the Nir Oz community, adjacent to Gaza, Israel's Foreign Ministry said. Four people were wounded.

Israeli government spokesman David Baker said Hamas, a radical Islamist movement that has escalated its rocket attacks since taking over Gaza last June, "will be held accountable" for the death. "This situation cannot continue," Baker said.

Hamas asserted responsibility for the strike. "We will confront the occupier with all our means and we will continue striking the Zionist military sites and settlements around Gaza in response to the continued aggression against our people," the group said in a statement.

The Palestinian child, a 4-year-old girl, was killed later in the day when Israeli forces fired a missile at a house in the Gaza city of Khan Younis, Palestinian medical officials said. The Israeli military said it was targeting a Palestinian fighter.

The girl's mother was injured in the attack.

Israel has been contemplating a cease-fire offer made by Hamas through intermediaries in Egypt. The Israeli security cabinet is expected to consider the proposal at a meeting Sunday. In addition, negotiators have been discussing the possibility of a prisoner exchange. Hamas, which is holding an Israeli soldier captured in a cross-border raid in June 2006, wants hundreds of Palestinians released in exchange for his safe return.

If Israel rejects the cease-fire, another option would be a wide-scale invasion of Gaza aimed at toppling Hamas.

"We are not eager for a military operation," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters in Washington. "But we are not shying away from one."

Olmert has been in Washington this week, meeting with U.S. officials, including President Bush. While peace talks with the Palestinians have been on the agenda, the trip has been dominated by discussion of how to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

With negotiations between Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership in a stalemate, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appeared to extend an olive branch to Hamas on Wednesday, saying it was time for the rival factions to talk. Any rapprochement with Hamas would likely kill the already slim chances for a deal between the Palestinian Authority, which holds sway in the West Bank, and Israel.

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