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Israeli airstrikes target Abbas compound in Gaza

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli aircraft fired three missiles at an abandoned police base in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' compound Tuesday, the first time Israel has attacked a security installation since Hamas took over the Palestinian government.

Israeli tanks also targeted the northern Gaza Strip, killing one Palestinian and wounding seven, including a mother and her 6-month-old baby, Palestinian officials said.

The Israeli army said it launched artillery at empty fields in northern Gaza to deter militants from launching homemade rockets into Israel. Earlier, Palestinian militants had fired homemade rockets at Israel, causing no injuries.

It was not immediately clear why Abbas' compound was targeted. Abbas, a moderate whose Fatah Party was defeated by the militant group Hamas in January's legislative elections, has repeatedly condemned the rocket fire and urged Hamas to accept peacemaking with Israel.

Abbas denounced the airstrike and called for international intervention to stop what he called Israel's "destruction for the sake of destruction."

"The continuous random bombarding in Gaza is not justified. It wants nothing but to disrupt daily life of Palestinian people," he said.

He said he contacted the United Nations, Russia, European Union and Arab states to tell them the strikes "affect our human and social status."

Abbas, elected separately last year, was at his main headquarters in the West Bank at the time of the airstrike.

In Israel, the two largest political parties pledged to serve together in a new government, setting aside recent bickering. The announcement by the Kadima and Labor parties paved the way for a center-left coalition that could push ahead with a proposed West Bank pullout in the next four years.

The announcement came after a meeting between acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Kadima and Labor leader Amir Peretz.

"We are happy to announce that immediately after the president gives me the mission of putting together a government, we will open coalition talks that will allow us to form a government in which the Labor Party will be a senior member," Olmert said with Peretz standing next to him.

Both men said they would try to forge the new coalition as quickly as possible.

In last week's election, Kadima emerged as the largest party in parliament with 29 out of 120 seats, followed by Labor with 19 seats. Under Israel's electoral system, the president, who holds a largely ceremonial post, traditionally asks the leader of the largest party to try to form a coalition government.

Labor initially balked at recommending to the president that Olmert be given that job, in what largely appeared to be a negotiating tactic.

Labor favors peace talks with the Palestinians. But it also is the party most likely to go along with Olmert's plan to dismantle dozens of small Jewish settlements, annex major settlement blocs and draw a border in the West Bank by 2010.

Tuesday's airstrike targeted Ansar 2, a security compound about 100 yards from Abbas' office in Gaza City. The attack wounded two people and left deep craters, officials said.

The Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry, which oversees some of the Palestinian security forces, condemned the Israeli "aggression" and threatened to retaliate.

Ansar 2, formerly used by Palestinian security forces to store equipment, has been abandoned due to previous Israeli attacks. During five years of fighting, Israel repeatedly attacked the site, most recently in 2004.

The missile attack came shortly after a Chinese envoy met with the new Palestinian foreign minister, becoming the first foreign diplomat to do so since the Hamas government was sworn in last week.

Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar also said he plans to visit China next month for a conference and was told a Palestinian delegation would be welcomed. It would be the first visit by Zahar to a non-Arab country since the Hamas government took power.

"The Chinese told us that they are ready to receive a Palestinian delegation at any time," Zahar said.

The visit could hurt Israel's efforts to rally international pressure on Hamas, which has killed hundreds of people in suicide bombings and opposes the existence of Israel. The United States and Europe have branded Hamas a terrorist group and many countries have pledged to shun the group's government until it renounces violence.

The Chinese diplomat, Yang Wei Guo, did not comment on Zahar's planned visit.

"We discussed the joint relations and the bilateral projects and we hope to continue and strengthen the cooperation and friendship in the future," he said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel "would be concerned about giving legitimacy and recognition to an unreformed Hamas because we believe that that would hurt the chances of the new Palestinian government moderating its extreme positions."

Stepping up Israeli pressure on Hamas, Israel's largest bank said Tuesday it is severing ties with Palestinian banks.

A former Palestinian official said Arab banks have advised the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority to withdraw money from their accounts, fearing Western countries will soon impose sanctions against the banks. The former official asked not to be identified because he no longer holds a government position.


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