GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, AP -Israeli aircraft fired missiles into a car carrying Palestinian militants Friday, killing six people including a bombmaker and his 5-year-old daughter, in the deadliest Israeli attack since the Hamas-led Palestinian government took office.
The air strike in the southern Gaza town of Rafah came as the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, and moderate President Mahmoud Abbas met to try to settle some of their growing differences.
Earlier this week, Abbas seized more powers from the Islamic militants, including control over security forces. Abbas and Haniyeh agreed to set up a liaison committee and to work together to resolve the looming Palestinian financial crisis, the men said after the meeting.
The Israeli strike targeted a training camp of the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella group for gunmen from various factions, including many with ties to the Islamic militant Hamas. The group has attacked Israeli targets in the past, including planting bombs under tanks.
The Israeli military said the aircraft targeted the car as it was leaving the isolated training camp, and Palestinian police said four missiles were fired.
The car was destroyed and four people inside were instantly killed, police said. Two others died later of their injuries.
Among those killed were at least three militants, including Iyad Abul Aynayn, 29, who had ties to Hamas and was a chief bombmaker for the group, and his 5-year-old daughter.
Fourteen people were wounded, most of them militants, police said.
Israel has killed scores of militants, as well as bystanders, in targeted airstrikes in more than five years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the new Hamas-led government, called the attack a “brutal massacre.”
“Maybe it’s an important message to the president (Abbas) today that Israel is not interested in peace or political compromises,” he said.
Hamas has found itself under growing international pressure to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace agreements. In a major setback for the militants, the United States and the European Union — the Palestinians’ two major donors — said Friday they were cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars in aid because of the Hamas-led government’s views. The U.S. and the EU said they would redirect some aid to humanitarian projects.
In a statement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said “the new Palestinian government must take responsibility for the consequences of its policies.”
Haniyeh and others in Hamas criticized Friday’s aid cutoff as collective punishment of the Palestinians.
The militant group has balked at meeting the international community’s demands, but has also acknowledged it is broke and will have trouble covering the government payroll without foreign aid; some 140,000 Palestinians draw government salaries, and their salaries sustain about one-third of the Palestinian population.
There have been signs in recent days that Hamas is trying to soften its image.
A senior Hamas official said Friday the group is ready to accept a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, which would imply recognition of Israel, without requiring Hamas to state this formally. But Haniyeh said he was not aware of a two-state proposal.
Hamas leaders also confirmed a report Friday in Israel’s Haaretz daily that the group is ready to extend a truce it has been observing for the past year, and will pressure other militant groups to follow suit, if Israel halts attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev dismissed Hamas’ attempts to portray itself as more moderate as “verbal gymnastics.” Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, and has been labeled a terrorist group by the United States and Europe.
Since Hamas took office, the militants have been wrangling with Abbas over the powers of their government, while trying not to alienate him. Abbas, a moderate, is recognized by the international community, and Hamas needs him as a conduit.
After his meeting with Abbas, Haniyeh said a top official from his office and one from Abbas’ office would form a committee to resolve the disputes over authority.
Haniyeh added that he and Abbas agreed to work together to solve the Palestinians urgent problems.
“There will be cooperation between the president and the Cabinet to find solutions to the current financial crisis and the policies that prolong the suffering of the people,” he said.