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Israeli Raids Claim Lives in Gaza


Saturday's violence came just two days after the start of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. (AFP)

Two Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air raids in the Gaza
Strip, medics and security sources say. Another person has been
critically injured.

The Israeli army launched three raids in the south of Gaza on
Saturday after Palestinian fighters fired a rocket over the border.

The flare-up of violence on the Israel-Gaza border came just two days after the relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the US.

Israeli aircraft reportedly struck targets including smuggling tunnels running under the border with Egypt at Rafah.

The two Palestinians were killed when one of the tunnels collapsed. Three others were wounded.

A raid also struck a former base of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the three raids, saying one
was aimed at "a tunnel dug in the direction of Israeli territory" for
attacks across the border.

Early on Saturday, Palestinian fighters fired a rocket from the Gaza
Strip into southern Israel, causing no injuries, the Israeli military

Gaza is under the control of Hamas, the Palestinian faction which is strongly opposed to negotiations with Israel.

Hamas pledge

Hamas has vowed to carry out attacks against Israeli targets in the coming weeks.

Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades carried out two shooting attacks
against Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank last week, killing
four people in one incident, and wounding two in the other.

Yitzhak Aharonovitz, the Israeli internal security minister, said on
Saturday he expected the "imminent" arrests of the perpetrators of those

He said the attacks were not the only attempts by Palestinian fighters to cast a pall over the relaunch of peace talks.

"This week there have been dozens of alerts about attempts to carry
out attack in Israel and in Judaea and Samaria [the occupied West
Bank]," Aharonovitz said in comments broadcast by Israel's military
radio station.

Peace talks

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Binyamin Netanyahu, the
Israeli prime minister, met in Washington on Thursday to resume direct
talks after a 20-month suspension.

Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to keep talking and produce a framework for a permanent peace deal.

After returning from Washington, Netanyahu addressed ministers in the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

"He talked about this being a historic moment for peace," AL Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said.

"He said Israel needs to start to find creative solutions to the
complex questions and issues facing them, none more prominent of course
than the question of settlements and whether the partial settlement
freeze in the occupied West Bank will be extended past its end of
September deadline."

But Hamas, whose fighters routed forces loyal to Abbas to take over the Gaza Strip in 2007, rejects Abbas's negotiations.

The US, which is brokering the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, did
not invite Hamas to the talks, because it recognises it as a "terrorist
organisation." But political observers say that is a misguided approach.

"Sidelining Hamas in any process to craft genuine peace between
Israelis and Palestinian is a glaring omission  tantamount to having an
elephant in the living room," says Larbi Sadiki, a lecturer at the
University of Exeter. "Whether it is Obama’s or the UN’s negotiating
room, pretending something of that size absent is an exercise in

Sadiki says that, if invited to the negotiations, elements of Hamas
would "readily speak directly with Israel,"because they believe that "it
is better to get it directly from the horse's mouth."

Abbas, however, has repeatedly said he will present any peace deal to
a national referendum, which would include the people of Gaza and the
West Bank.

A vote in favour of any peace agreement would then put heavy pressure on Hamas to accept the will of the Palestinian people.

Abbas broke off the last round of direct talks when Israel launched a military assault on the Gaza Strip in December 2008.

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