JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip killed one Palestinian and injured 17 others Friday as the army retaliated for the killing of an Israeli in a mortar shelling and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned efforts at a truce in the area had almost been exhausted.
Egypt has been trying to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip. But Israel was considering a broad campaign in Gaza in light of an increase in deaths from the firing of the projectiles from Gaza. Four Israelis have been killed in the attacks thus far this year, out of a total of 16 killed since 2004.
Speaking about the possibility of a cease-fire or a military operation, Olmert said the diplomatic option was not bearing fruit.
“According to the information we have now, the pendulum is much closer to a decision on a harsh operation,” Olmert told reporters soon after he returned from a visit to the United States.
In the meantime, Israel was persisting in its airstrikes and pinpoint land raids to try and stop the projectiles that have severely hampered life in southern Israel.
In Friday’s violence, an exchange of fire broke out when Israeli tanks and bulldozers crossed the fence into Gaza.
One Hamas militant was killed and two injured, Hamas said. Israel’s army said troops clashed with Hamas when they entered Gaza briefly in an effort to prevent rocket launchings. One soldier was lightly hurt, the army spokesman said.
In another Israeli strike early Friday, aircraft fired at a Hamas base in the northern Gaza Strip. Fifteen Palestinians including Hamas militants and civilians were injured in the attack, doctors said. The building was totally destroyed and several buildings around were damaged, witnesses said. Israel’s army said the airstrike targeted a Hamas base.
An Israeli airstrike Thursday killed a Palestinian girl when a missile apparently meant for a rocket launching squad missed its target. The airstrikes were retaliation for a Palestinian mortar shelling Thursday, the army said, which hit a factory, killing one Israeli and injuring four others.
Olmert’s security Cabinet was reportedly slated to debate a large Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip in a meeting on Sunday.
Israel has been reluctant to launch such a campaign for fear it will result in the death of a large number of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians. But momentum has grown for the operation especially as more Israelis are hurt by the projectiles and Egypt has been unable to squeeze a cease-fire out of the sides.
Israel has also imposed a blockade on Gaza in an effort to force Hamas to reign in rocket launchers, allowing only humanitarian aide and limited fuel shipments through the crossings that it controls.
The Islamic Hamas seized control last year of the territory of 1.4 million Palestinians, ousting forces allied with moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The U.S.-backed Abbas still controls the West Bank and Israel hopes to reach a final peace agreement with him by the end of the year. A large Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip could prompt Abbas to call off the negotiations.