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MID: Israeli Gaza raid kills one as Hamas eyes truce

By Sakher Abu El Oun
02 Feb 2009 10:01 PM

GAZA CITY, Feb 2 AFP - Israel has carried out a deadly air raid in Gaza after warning of a harsh response to renewed fire from the enclave, where the Hamas rulers spoke out in favour of a conditional one-year truce.

One Palestinian was killed and four others were wounded on Monday in the strike on a vehicle carrying militants in the southern town of Rafah, medical sources and witnesses said.

An Israeli army spokesman said the raid targeted militants who had fired several mortar rounds against southern Israel that caused no injuries.

The action came after fighter jets launched air strikes across Gaza late on Sunday in response to renewed militant rocket fire that shook the January 18 ceasefire that ended Israel's 22-day war on the coastal strip.

There were no reports of casualties in Sunday's strikes which hit a Hamas police station and tunnels used for smuggling weapons and goods from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, which is reeling under a punishing Israel blockade.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday vowed to deal "a severe and disproportionate Israeli response" to the new rocket fire.

More than 15 rockets have been fired from Gaza since the end of Operation Cast Lead, wounding one civilian and two soldiers, Israel said.

Israel's onslaught on Gaza left more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak said that although most of the rockets were not fired by Hamas, the Islamist movement which has controlled Gaza since June 2007 bore responsibility for the attacks.

"We are responding and we will continue to retaliate. We know that most of the fire was not carried out by Hamas but by other small organisations, but Hamas is responsible. Hamas must act to stop this.

"We need calm in the south, and that is the test... If there is no calm we will have to act again," Barak warned on public radio.

The latest violence comes just over a week before Israelis go to the polls in a February 10 election expected to return the right-wing to power.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian gunman who opened fire at an army patrol in the south of the occupied West Bank, rescue services said.

The flare-up came as Egyptian officials were set to hold separate talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and representatives of Hamas in a bid to broker a lasting truce.

The Islamist group said it is in favour of a one-year truce on condition the impoverished territory's crossings are opened to the outside world.

"We agree in principle with a one-year truce," spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP, but added that Hamas has not ruled out an 18-month truce proposed by the Egyptian mediators.

"Whether one year or a year and a half, it must be linked to the opening of all crossing points, including Rafah, and the lifting of the (Israeli) blockade," he said.

The ceasefire talks have been complicated by Palestinian factional feuding.

Abbas on Sunday accused Hamas - which kicked out his forces from Gaza in June 2007 - of putting Palestinian lives and their hopes for statehood in peril.

He also accused the Islamists of trying to smash the Palestine Liberation Organisation and said he rejected talks with any group which did not recognise the PLO.

Khaled Meshaal, who heads Hamas's politburo from exile in Damascus, said last week that the PLO had become obsolete and called for "a new national authority".

His comments were not supported by Hamas-allied militants, who said the PLO should be reformed rather than replaced.

Meshaal on Sunday ruled out any permanent ceasefire until Israel ends the crippling blockade it imposed on Gaza after Hamas seized power.

But an Israeli official said the government "is not ready to adhere to any agreement that has a time limit. We want a deal that will be valid for as long as the sides respect it."