Gaza City: Israeli warplanes pummeled Hamas targets on 18 May 2007, killing at least eight people in a stepped-up campaign against Gaza rocket squads, and adding an extra layer of violence to infighting between Palestinian gunmen, who traded automatic weapons and grenade fire at a Gaza City university.
The concentric circles of violence have scuttled a 5-month-old truce between Israel and Gaza militants and brought Palestinian factions that nominally share power to the brink of civil war. More than 70 Palestinians have been killed in the spasm of bloodletting that broke out at the beginning of this week.
Hamas militiamen, meanwhile, took the internal Palestinian strife to an ominous new level by widening the group of targets, seizing aides to two prominent Fatah officials.
Israeli missiles came screeching down on Gaza at least five times on 18 May in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks that have sent southern Israel into a state of panic. At least 13 rockets fell throughout the day, injuring four people in the rocket-scarred town of Sderot.
One of the airstrikes incinerated a minivan carrying Hamas militants and what the army described as “a large amount of weapons.” Three fighters were killed and 12 people were wounded, Palestinian hospital officials said.
“We were sitting outside my grocery store when a huge explosion shook the area and a small minivan turned into a ball of fire,” witness Jawad Dallou said.
People in a nearby mourning tent grieving for a victim of the Palestinian infighting were also wounded, he said.
Five Palestinians, including at least three Hamas militants, were killed and six wounded in an earlier strike east of Gaza City. The military said the target was a Hamas headquarters building.
Other air attacks throughout the day caused no fatalities.
In all, at least 20 Palestinians have died in Israeli airstrikes that began on 15 May.
Six days of fighting between Hamas and Fatah have claimed more than 50 lives and all but destroyed a 2-month-old power-sharing deal between the two groups. The fighting was touched off by Abbas’ deployment of thousands of troops in Gaza City last week to try to restore law and order—a move Hamas took as a provocation because it wasn’t consulted.
The two abductions in Gaza on Friday broadened the mayhem because it was the first time senior civilians with ties to Fatah were targeted.
Hamas gunmen seized Abdel Salam Abu Askar, a veteran journalist who advises Fatah’s Gaza strongman, Mohammed Dahlan. Abu Askar was released after several hours.
The office director of a senior Fatah leader in Gaza, Abdullah Franji, remained in captivity late Friday.
Gunbattles between the two factions on Friday killed three people.