GAZA, (Reuters) – Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians including a boy in clashes in Gaza on Friday and the government said its assault would end only if gunmen stopped attacking the Jewish state from the strip.
Two Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded in fighting in northern Gaza when gunmen detonated an explosive device near troops, the army said.
The latest ground and air offensive, about a week old, has sought to curb an upsurge of militant rocket fire at Israel.
Palestinian factions late on Thursday offered a limited ceasefire by saying they would stop firing rockets if Israel halted military action in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. The offer did not include suicide bombings and Israel swiftly rejected it. “If the Palestinian terror factions, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, stop terror activities from the Gaza Strip, Israel would have no reason or incentive to operate in Gaza,” said Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Hamas Islamist movement told reporters it was up to Israel to respond positively. “The issue should not be seen as if there is a Palestinian army with an arsenal of rockets … The issue is that there is an unarmed Palestinian people who are subject to Israeli aggression,” he said.
Palestinian hospital officials said the 10-year-old boy was shot dead east of the town of Beit Lahiya. Israel’s army said it was checking the report.
Hamas said the other dead Palestinian was a militant and cameraman from the faction’s armed wing who filmed Hamas fighters in action.
Israel has killed nearly 400 Palestinians in Gaza, about half of them civilians, since it began its offensive in June following the abduction of an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid, hospital officials and residents say. Three soldiers have been killed.
The fresh fighting coincides with a visit to Gaza by President Mahmoud Abbas of the once dominant Fatah faction, who has been meeting Haniyeh to try to revive talks on forging a unity government.
Hamas accused Abbas on Friday of imposing what it called unacceptable conditions for a unity cabinet, including the release of the Israeli soldier and a halt to attacks by Hamas and other groups on Israel.
Palestinians hope a unity government will be able to convince Western nations to renew aid to the Palestinian Authority after sanctions were imposed because of Hamas’s refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence. “Mr Abu Mazen (Abbas) has started putting new conditions which were not included in the understandings and agreements we have concluded to form a unity government,” said a Hamas statement from Damascus, where many of its leaders live in exile.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Abbas, said Hamas had “invented” the idea the president was imposing new terms, saying they had been on the table for months. “This is the latest trick by the Hamas leadership to portray itself to the public as not being responsible for the destruction of the internal Palestinian situation and to put the consequences on president Abu Mazen,” Abed Rabbo said. Haniyeh was more upbeat, saying the “true intention” of the talks was to reach an agreement. Hamas took office in March after beating Fatah in elections.