Israel launches airstrikes on Hamas amid Palestinian infighting

IDF attacks come in response to Hamas rocket barrage against southern Israel.

As violence between the forces of Hamas and Fatah rages in Gaza, Israel has stepped up airstrikes against Hamas in response to continued rocket attacks by the Palestinian militant group on Israeli towns.

The Associated Press reports that Israel airstrikes against Hamas continued for the second day on Friday, a day after Israel sent troops and tanks just across the border into Gaza in retaliation for Hamas's rocket attacks.

"Israel will take every defensive measure to stop these rocket attacks. We will defend our citizens against the rockets, against the weapons, against the Iranian-backed Hamas who are attacking Israel," government spokeswoman Miri Eisen said....
"We have to show them one thing, that the moment you fire, we shall return fire," [Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer] told Israel Radio.

The AP also reports, however, that a senior army official indicated that Israel has no plans for a major ground offensive in Gaza. The Guardian writes that Hamas militants have fired about 100 missiles into Israeli territory in the past few days, with eight hitting Israel on Friday, including one which caused minor injuries in the southern town of Sderot.

The Christian Science Monitor wrote Thursday that Hamas's rocket attacks may be an attempt to lure Israeli forces into Gaza, which would then unite Hamas and their Fatah rivals against a "common enemy." The AP reports that Friday saw continued battles between Fatah and Hamas, this time centered around Hamas-controlled Islamic University. In the past six days, the AP says, 47 Palestinians have been killed by fighting between the factions.

The New York Times reports that on Wednesday and Thursday, many residents of Sderot boarded buses to leave the town to find a reprieve from the constant barrage. During an unannounced visit to the town on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he opposed any evacuations, because they provided "the exact pictures that Hamas has been waiting for, and I am not prepared to grant any victory to terrorism."

As word of the visit got out, though, one angry neighbor, Aryeh Cohen, stood at the end of Mr. Peretz's street, which was blocked by security officers, and shouted, "Olmert, you coward, coming like a thief in the night." Mr. Cohen complained that the government was not doing enough to stop the rocket fire. "Instead of evacuating us," he said, "they should be evacuating the Palestinian neighborhoods in Gaza from where the rockets are fired."

Reuters reports that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni indicated the Israeli government will decide if further action against Hamas is needed when the cabinet meets on Sunday. Israeli government spokesman David Baker added: "We will see sustained and vibrant measures to end the rocket attacks and remove the threat to southern Israel."

The Jerusalem Post writes that an unnamed "high-ranking" IDF official said that Israeli airstrikes could continue even if the Hamas rocket attacks stopped, adding: "We want to make Hamas pay for the terror."

The New York Times reports that Hamas will seek revenge for the Israeli airstrikes, with one official indicating that options may include a renewal of suicide bombings against Israeli targets.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the group's military wing, said, "The Zionist enemy is launching an open war against Hamas. So reprisal options are open, including self-sacrifice operations."
His suggestion of a renewal of suicide bombings by Hamas, which has not carried any out inside Israel since 2004, was not confirmed by other Hamas officials.
He added that rocket attacks would continue against "the Zionist settlers." Sderot is inside Israel proper, but Hamas regards any Israeli as an illegal settler on land that Allah supposedly gave to the Muslims in perpetuity.
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