Israelis kill Palestinian militants as truce falters

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The Independent Online

Israeli forces killed two Palestinian militants yesterday along the Gaza-Israel border, where a sudden surge in violence has weakened an unofficial truce which has been in place since Israel's bruising 2009 war there.

The Israelis say they launched an airstrike after spotting two men trying to plant an explosive device along the frontier, where soldiers patrol.

But the Islamic Jihad militant group said two of its members died in a clash with Israeli ground troops. There was no way to immediately reconcile the two accounts. The border area has been calm, for the most part, since Israel invaded Gaza in December 2008 to try to stop years of Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel, killing more than 1,400 Palestinians – including more than 900 civilians – and destroying large sections of the territory.

But violence flared several weeks ago and on Saturday, Gaza's militant Hamas rulers warned they would escalate hostilities against Israel if tensions didn't subside.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks coming out of Gaza, though much of the rocket fire has been carried out by more radical splinter groups. But they all oppose efforts by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to win a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel.

Those negotiations ran aground several months ago over Israeli settlement construction. Palestinian leaders, sceptical of negotiating a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, say they are pursuing alternatives.

Yesterday Israeli Cabinet Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of the Labor Party, warned that if Israel doesn't enter into peace talks with the Palestinians, then "the whole world" is likely to recognise a sovereign Palestinian state – a development Israel would not welcome. He said: "Within a year, we will find ourselves in a situation where the whole world – and I wouldn't be surprised if even the US – would support a Palestinian state."

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