RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
Israel today launched helicopter missile strikes against vehicles suspected of transporting members of Hamas. The strikes occurred in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip and killed at least four people. There were also earlier overnight Israeli missile strikes in Gaza, all part of a new Israeli offensive against suspected Palestinian militants. It's the most intensive series of Israeli air raids since an Israeli-Palestinian truce was announced last February. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
The Israeli air strikes came minutes apart. Israeli media said all of those killed were members of the military wing of Hamas. Over the past two years, Israel had gradually reduced the number of what it calls `targeted killings' and Palestinians call `assassinations.' But in the past three days, six Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, one in a Qassam rocket attack yesterday and five in a suicide bombing in Netanya on Wednesday.
There have been two series of Israeli air strikes in the past 24 hours. Overnight, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at Palestinian targets in Gaza, sending people screaming into the streets. Palestinian witnesses said one missile destroyed a pro-Hamas charity, and another hit a metal foundry and storage room in a house in Gaza. An Israeli army spokesman said a weapons depot in Khan Yunis was also destroyed.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev says Israel wants the five-month-old cease-fire to continue, especially as Israel prepares to withdraw from Gaza next month, but he says Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas must act to fulfill his commitment to stop the rocket and mortar fire.
Mr. MARK REGEV (Spokesman, Israeli Foreign Ministry): Israel has an interest in maintaining the quiet. We want disengagement to go ahead. We want the pullout from Gaza to happen smoothly, quietly and efficiently, but unfortunately, there are groups out there like Islamic Jihad, like Hamas that want to torpedo the entire process and we've seen that in their provocations over the last few days where we've had half a dozen Israeli deaths.
GRADSTEIN: Abbas may be beginning to fulfill the Israeli demand to crack down on militant groups. After the rocket attack yesterday, Abbas declared a state of emergency and there were fierce gun battles between Hamas gunmen and Palestinian police in the northern Gaza Strip. Palestinian journalist Mohammed Waheti(ph) who lives in Gaza says two Palestinians were killed in that gun battle, both of them teen-agers who were caught in the cross-fire. Waheti says he believes Abbas is serious about trying to stop the rocket fire on Israel.
Mr. MOHAMMED WAHETI (Palestinian Journalist): I think this time the Palestinian Authority will use all the means and the ways to stop these violations. This peace process must go on.
GRADSTEIN: He says the Palestinian Authority wants to see the Israeli pullout from Gaza go smoothly. That withdrawal is supposed to begin one month from today. This morning, Palestinian gunmen fired six Qassam rockets at southern Israel. There were no casualties. Two Jewish settlers in Gaza were slightly wounded when a mortar landed in their settlement.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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