Ceasefire under threat as Israel retaliates for attack

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The Independent Online

The five-month ceasefire in the Israel-Palestinian conflict was under continuing strain after Israel launched a missile at Hamas militants in response to a Gaza rocket attack which killed three people on Tuesday.

Witnesses said the militants escaped unharmed from the strike which was launched 24 hours after three greenhouse workers - two Palestinians and a Chinese man - were killed in a Qassam rocket attack on the Jewish Gaza settlement of Ganei Tal. Seven Palestinians were also injured.

The retaliation came amid signs of a debate within the Israeli security establishment over how to respond to militant violence in the run-up to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, stressed the "opportunity" for progress for Palestinians in the peace process if the leadership could impose security after the Israeli withdrawal.

Giora Eiland, a senior adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, told foreign journalists last week that the military might have to enter Khan Yunis in southern Gaza to "secure" the Gush Katif settlement block before the compulsory evacuation of Jewish settlers begins on 15 August.

Danny Naveh, a Likud minister, argued for withdrawal to be postponed, saying: "Even those who support the disengagement cannot continue to support a situation in which [terrorists] fire on Israelis and receive a prize for it."

But Mr Straw, on a two-day visit to Palestinian and Israeli leaders, said he saw no sign that the government would delay after the political price it had paid for its plan. He said that if the Palestinian Authority, under Mahmoud Abbas, could maintain security for its people and for Israel after disengagement, the withdrawal would create a real possibility of progress. But if it failed "no Israeli government would stand idly by".

Although he put the onus on the Palestinians to make a success of disengagement, he expressed concern at Israeli plans to demolish 90 houses in the Arab east Jerusalem area of Silwan.

Israeli Army Radio reported that some officials were calling for a "crushing blow" to Hamas in the run-up to disengagement. This was in contrast to earlier reports that senior figures in the army and the domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet had ordered restraint over the violent outbreaks to allow Mr Abbas time to curb militants.