Hamas Trying to Drag Israel Into Gaza Fighting

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - A senior Israeli official on Wednesday accused Hamas of trying to prod Israel into a massive ground operation in the Gaza Strip to put an end to internal Palestinian fighting there. But Israel won't take the bait, the official said.

Palestinians in Gaza had launched six rockets at Israel as of midday Wednesday, one of which hit a home and another a basketball court in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. No one was injured. But on Tuesday evening, Hamas claimed responsibility for injuring at least 18 people in similar rocket attacks.

In response, the Israeli Air Force on Wednesday carried out an aerial attack against what the army called a "Hamas terrorist command center" in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah. Palestinians reported more than 30 wounded in the air strike.

The rocket attacks come as the internal Palestinian fighting between Hamas and the Fatah factions shows no sign of letting up. At least seven Palestinians were killed in Wednesday's battles and at least 15 died on Tuesday, bringing the total killed to 40 since Sunday, reports said.

Hamas, which has been ruling the P.A. since it won parliamentary elections last year, agreed to form a unity government with Fatah several months ago in an attempt to break an international financial boycott on the P.A. But the power struggle between the two groups has continued, particularly over the question of who will rule the security forces.

Washington and Israel are backing Abbas as a moderate because at least publicly he advocates a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas, the more openly radical of the two factions, wants all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel to become an Islamic Palestinian state.

Critics argue that Abbas is not really a moderate since the charter of his Fatah faction still calls for the destruction of Israel. Others say he is too weak to gain control of the situation.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was due to convene his security cabinet on Wednesday to discuss Israel's security situation. He has been under pressure to mount a full-scale ground operation in the Gaza Strip, which security experts and the army say is the only way to stop the continual rocket firing and uproot the terrorist infrastructure there.

Israel Radio quoted an unnamed senior officer in the army's southern command as saying that the situation in the Gaza Strip poses a strategic threat to Israel because of the huge amounts of weapons, ammunition and explosives that have been smuggled into the area through the Gaza-Egyptian border.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's minister for strategic affairs, was quoted as saying that Israel - by doing nothing -- is sending the message that it is unable to make decisions and protect its residents. It is possible to stop the rocket fire if the long-awaited decision to launch a ground assault is finally made.

But it does not seem likely that Israel will mount a ground offensive now. Earlier this week, the security cabinet decided against such a move.

"We're not going to be dragged into Gaza" because that is what Hamas wants, said Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisen. She said Israel would choose the time and place to respond.

Israel will find a way to protect its citizens and will respond, she said. "It doesn't mean that we'll wipe Gaza off the face of the map."

Meanwhile, Hamas is not likely to back down. In a message posted on the website of its armed wing on Tuesday, Hamas said "the resistance option" would "remain its strategic option." Resistance refers to terrorism or armed conflict.

Saeb Erekat, a senior advisor to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, said that an Israeli ground invasion into the Gaza Strip would only complicate matters. But he did not blame Israel for the Gaza's woes.

The firing of rockets and the whole situation in Gaza is at the top of the P.A. agenda, Erekat told Cybercast News Service.

Erekat said the problem in Gaza cannot be blamed on one faction or another but is a serious problem brought on by "chaos, lawlessness, and the absence of the rule of law."

Erekat insisted that Abbas was serious about implementing a security plan to restore law and order in the Gaza Strip.

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