Israeli PM approves stepped up attacks on Hamas

Daily Star Egypt Staff
6 Min Read

Brotherhood calls on Arabs to expel Israeli envoys GAZA: Israel s prime minister cleared the way on Wednesday to expand an offensive against the Palestinians governing Hamas movement aimed at freeing an abducted soldier and ending rocket attacks from Gaza. In fresh violence, Hamas gunmen skirmished with Israeli forces stationed near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, witnesses said. Militants said they fired at least two anti-tank rockets, hitting an Israeli tank and a bulldozer. The Israeli army said it was not aware of any anti-tank rocket fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Political sources said the Israeli army was discussing establishing a buffer zone in northern Gaza to halt cross-border rocket fire after the Hamas armed wing fired a missile into the coastal city of Ashkelon for the first time on Tuesday. A spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said no decision had been taken. Given the abduction and continued ballistic salvoes, including the (rocket) launched at Ashkelon, the rules of the game in dealing with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas must be changed, a statement from Olmert s office said. The statement said Olmert s security cabinet had approved strikes against Hamas in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, focusing on institutions and infrastructure facilitating terrorism. It also approved stepped-up attacks on rocket crews in Gaza.

In Egypt, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood joined leftist opposition groups on Wednesday in calling on Arab countries to expel their Israeli ambassadors and to boycott Israeli goods, the Islamist group s Web site said. Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania are the only Arab countries to have diplomatic relations with Israel. A delegation of Muslim Brotherhood and leftist opposition members hand-delivered a letter, excerpts from which were posted on the Brotherhood Web site, to the deputy secretary general of the Arab League, Ahmed Ben Hilli, calling for expelling ambassadors, political and economic representatives and all those attached to the Zionist entity from Arab countries. The delegation also called for a freeze on all [Arab] countries from initiating relations of any type with the Zionist occupying state and stressed the importance of boycotting all Zionist goods and not allowing them into Arab countries. The Muslim Brotherhood, although officially banned in Egypt, fielded candidates as independents in the November-December 2005 parliamentary elections. It won 20 percent of seats in parliament, making it the country s largest opposition bloc. During a parliamentary session on Monday condemning the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, Egyptian MPs called on the government to expel the Israeli ambassador and recall the Egyptian Ambassador from Tel Aviv. On Friday, thousands of worshippers gathered after the weekly Muslim prayers at Al Azhar mosque, Sunni Islam s main seat of learning, in protest at the presence of an Israeli embassy in Egypt. Wednesday s letter also calls on the Arab League to offer all possible aid to the Palestinians. On Tuesday, the Arab League announced the transfer of $50 million to the Palestinian Authority Israel quit Gaza last year after 38 years of occupation, but launched its offensive following the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit by militant groups including the Hamas armed wing in a cross-border raid from Gaza on June 25. The army has already sent tanks and troops inside the northern border but stopped short of a major push into towns. It entered the south last week, establishing a static position in Gaza s disused international airport. Israel has also detained eight Hamas cabinet members and nearly two dozen lawmakers in the West Bank. In separate violence, an explosion in a Hamas stronghold in Gaza City killed two people, witnesses said. Palestinian security officials said they were investigating if explosives had detonated prematurely. Israel s army denied any involvement. Olmert has called Tuesday s missile strike on Ashkelon an escalation without precedent. The upgraded rocket traveled 12 km from Gaza. No one was hurt but it was the first time a major Israeli city has been hit. Previous rocket salvoes targeted small border towns. The rocket, powered by two engines instead of the usual single motor, slammed into a schoolyard in the centre of Ashkelon, a city of 115,000 and the site of a major power plant. Keeping up nightly attacks on targets in Gaza, Israeli missiles tore through the five-storey Palestinian Interior Ministry building in Gaza early on Wednesday. At least three people were wounded. The air raid damaged neighboring apartments, and medics rushed children suffering from shock to hospital. Israel has also hinted it could assassinate leaders of Hamas, whose government is under an international aid embargo, if Shalit is not freed. Hamas has said it was not frightened by what it termed Zionist threats. There has been little information about Shalit s fate since the 19-year-old tank gunner was captured. Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday quoted Arab mediators as saying seven gunmen were holed up with him in an underground bunker somewhere in Gaza, with a hoard of food. On Tuesday, Israel ignored an ultimatum by the groups which abducted Shalit to begin freeing Palestinian prisoners. Agencies

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