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ARABS-ISRAEL - May 20 - Israel Vows To Increase Gaza Raids On Hamas.

The Israeli government announces that it will intensify its military operations in Gaza in an effort to halt Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire reached on May 19 appeared to take hold in Gaza, after a week of fierce factional fighting between Fatah and its rival, Hamas. The focus of the Israeli military operations will be on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the factions that have been the main perpetrators of the rocket attacks, said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for PM Ehud Olmert. She added that if the intensified operations were not successful, Israel's security cabinet would consider "more drastic steps". She would not specify what the intensified measures, or possible more drastic measures, might include. Overnight, the Israeli Air Force struck members of a Hamas cell traveling in a car; a vehicle carrying a large amount of explosives belonging to Hamas; and three buildings where weapons were being produced, an army spokesman said. Three Hamas militants were killed in the car, Palestinian medics told The AP. But on May 20, at least 10 rockets were launched from Gaza, most of which reached Israel, the army spokesman said. Several hit the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel, and one fell in the center of the Israeli border town of Sderot, causing little damage and no casualties. More than 150 rockets have been launched at Israel since May 16, according to the army. The Israeli government also said it would expedite the building of protected spaces in private homes for residents of Sderot, which has been hardest hit by the rocket fire. The government announcement May 20 angered many Sderot resident, who said the action did not go far enough. Many had been hoping that Olmert would order another invasion of the Gaza Strip, from which Israel withdrew in 2005, and some took to the streets in protest. Mayor Eli Moyal has complained that in the six years since the rockets started falling on the town, the government has only managed to fortify schools and kindergartens, which have been closed for the past few days. "The municipal sports center is not protected, nor is this", Moyal said May 17, referring to his own top-floor office in the modest town hall. Though the number of Israeli deaths from the crude and inaccurate rockets from Gaza has been relatively low - eight civilians since 2001, according to the police - Sderot's residents have been affected physically and psychologically by the continued threat, say social service professionals in the town. "People are exhausted - they don't sleep at night and the tiredness magnifies all their other problems", said Limor Yashar, a social worker who runs programs for children at risk. "People are sleeping under stairwells for protection, together with their children. There is no privacy. Older children are wetting their beds, or will only sleep with the lights on". The internal cease-fire reached in Gaza was the fifth in a week; the previous ones have broken down after only minutes or hours. In Gaza City, schools, stores and businesses reopened May 20 and people resumed their lives after a week of self-imposed curfew because of the clashes. But the atmosphere remained tense between Fatah and Hamas, which share power in a fracturing unity government. Members of the Fatah-controlled security forces maintained positions behind sandbags in the main streets leading to the National Security headquarters, and members of the Hamas Executive Force, set up to rival the police, staffed their own headquarters a block away. Some of the heaviest fighting took place around the Al Nour building, a residential block of 52 apartments next to the Executive Force headquarters. Executive Force members took up positions in the block, which overlooks ministries where pro-Fatah Presidential Guards and other Fatah forces took control. The Fatah forces told the residents to move to the basement during the fighting, then fired about 70 rocket-propelled grenades at the apartment complex, setting several units ablaze. Nahidh Abu Rahma, 46, a lawyer who lives near the Al Nour building, was skeptical about the chances of the latest cease-fire. "Many were killed", he said of the factional clashes. "You are talking here about revenge and reactions". He said he had decided to try to go to the US to live. Hamas officials said that in the last week, 22 of its members and supporters had been killed and 80 wounded in the fighting with Fatah and 19 killed by Israeli troops. Israel generally does not provide such figures, saying it cannot confirm them. A Fatah spokesman, Abdel Hakim Awad, said that 23 Fatah security force members and fighters had been killed and 110 wounded in the fighting. Six civilians and one member of the smaller Islamic Jihad faction were also among the dead. The consensus in Gaza was that there was no clear winner, a view backed by some Israeli security experts.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:May 26, 2007
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