Israel stages first arrest raid in Gaza since pullout; Palestinian factions negotiate
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli commandos on Saturday carried out the first arrest raid in the Gaza Strip since Israel’s withdrawal from the coastal area last year, seizing two Hamas militants in a swift overnight operation.The raid, completed in one hour under the cover of darkness, came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was in Gaza trying to work out final details on a power-sharing agreement with the Hamas-led government.Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas met for about two hours late Saturday but failed to reach a deal. Participants said the talks were positive, and more meetings were scheduled for Sunday.”The dialogue is moving in the right direction,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a top aide to Abbas. He said both sides need to “convince the world that we have a government they can deal with.”The two factions have been locked in a power struggle since Hamas defeated Abbas’ Fatah party in January legislative elections. Abbas, a moderate, was elected separately last year.Abbas has been pressing the Islamic militants of Hamas to accept a proposal drafted by senior prisoners held by Israel that calls for the implicit recognition of the Jewish state.If Hamas doesn’t accept the document, Abbas has said he will move ahead with a July 26 referendum on the proposal. Opinion polls indicate Palestinian voters back Abbas.Abbas believes a united political front would end weeks of bloody Palestinian infighting, help lift international financial sanctions against Hamas and allow him to restart peace talks with Israel.Israel and Western donors, which provide most of the funds for the Palestinian budget, have boycotted the Hamas government until the group renounces violence and recognizes Israel.Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, has so far refused to endorse the deal with Abbas. But with the economic situation in the Palestinian areas worsening, pressure has mounted on the militants to strike a deal.Government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Hamas has agreed to compromise on “very important issues.” Contentious points in the prisoners’ document include tacitly accepting Israel by endorsing a Palestinian state alongside it, ending Palestinian attacks inside Israel, and forming a national unity government.Officials said the remaining area of disagreement focused on a proposal calling for formation of a coalition government. Hamas currently controls the Palestinian legislature and Cabinet.The Palestinian talks have been complicated both by factional violence and fighting with Israel.In the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis late Saturday, a Hamas activist and a Fatah security man were wounded in separate shootings. While there were no claims of responsibility, the violence appeared to be related to recent tensions between the sides.In a separate incident, Palestinian militants fired five rockets toward the Israeli border town of Sderot late Saturday, the army said. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.The rocket fire has caused few casualties but severely disrupted life in Sderot, drawing Israeli reprisals. Israeli airstrikes aimed at rocket-launching militants have killed 13 Palestinian civilians in recent weeks.Abu Rdeneh said there was a “consensus” in Saturday’s talks to halt the rocket attacks to take away any “Israeli pretext” to attack. However, spokesmen for Hamas and the radical Islamic Jihad group said there were no immediate plans to curb the rocket fire.”The problem is the Israeli occupation, not our people,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.In Saturday’s raid, a small force of Israeli commandos swept into southern Gaza, seized two brothers affiliated with Hamas and quickly withdrew, the army said.It was the third time ground forces had entered Gaza since Israel completed its unilateral withdrawal last September, but the first time troops arrested militants.Capt. Tal Levram, a spokesman for Israel’s southern command, described the raid as an isolated incident and said it did not signal a new tactic in Israel’s war with the militants.”They were involved in something that was supposed to happen very soon,” he said of the arrested men, declining to elaborate.Abu Zuhri denied the two militants were members of the group. But local Hamas activists said the pair were sons of a prominent local Hamas leader and known to be members.
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