The Associated Press
The Israeli military said the air force struck in retaliation for a mortar attack from Gaza Monday into southern Israel that lightly wounded an Israeli soldier. The Israeli government has pledged a military response to every attack.
Fighting between Israel and Gaza militants has largely subsided since a fierce Israeli offensive in January, but Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight economic blockade of the coastal area to maintain pressure on the militant Hamas government.
In Gaza, the men killed and wounded were all smugglers caught in a tunnel during the pre-dawn Israeli strike, said Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain.
The prime minister of the Hamas government, Ismail Haniyeh, said such violence threatened to unravel an informal cease-fire that has largely held for seven months.
Hundreds of Gazans work in tunnels used to bring in goods not available in the seaside territory because of the blockade. Israel says Hamas uses the tunnels to smuggle in weapons and explosives.
Later Tuesday, the Israeli military said soldiers shot and lightly wounded a Palestinian who crossed into Israel from Gaza near the sensitive Nahal Oz fuel depot. He was taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment. The depot has been attacked by Gaza militants in the past.
As violence in Gaza was heating up, the leader of the Western-backed Palestinian government in the West Bank unveiled a development plan that calls for construction of an airport, international rail lines and an oil refinery over the next two years. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the projects would help pave the way for independence.
The program reflected Palestinian frustration after years of on-again, off-again peace talks aimed at ending the decades-long conflict with Israel. With peacemaking efforts currently on hold, the Palestinians must move forward on their own, Fayyad said.
“We believe that full commitment to the state-building endeavor will advance our highest national priority of ending the (Israeli) occupation, thereby enabling us to live in freedom and dignity in a country of our own,” he said.
It remained unclear how Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, expects to carry out the projects. Israel occupies the West Bank and would need to grant approval for major development projects. It was also unclear how Fayyad’s cash-strapped government would finance construction.
Fayyad said further information would be given to the proper ministries as plans develop.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has grudgingly endorsed the concept a Palestinian state with limited powers, while supporting improving relations by strengthening the Palestinian economy.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, gave Fayyad’s plan a cool reception.
“Neither artificial dates nor arbitrary deadlines are going to work,” he said. “What is going to make a Palestinian state viable is the end of conflict, the end of all the Palestinian claims, meeting us halfway with political compromises, and, of course, sitting with us without preconditions.”
The Palestinians have said they will not open negotiations until Israel halts all construction in Jewish settlements built on land claimed by the Palestinians. President Barack Obama has also called for a settlement freeze. The subject was expected to be the main topic in talks in London Tuesday between Netanyahu and Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell.
The internal split between the rival Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank has further complicated peace efforts, since the Palestinians hope to build their state in both territories.
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