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Israeli strikes kill 5 militants in Gaza

The violence further undercuts truce efforts with Palestinians.

May 24, 2008|From Times Wire Services

GAZA CITY — Israeli troops killed five Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Friday, in violence that complicated efforts to bring a brief truce to the violence-wracked area.

Israeli aircraft fired missiles at three Hamas militants on motorcycles, killing all three, Gaza health officials said. The Israeli military said the men were carrying antitank missiles.

Two other Palestinian militants with the Islamic Jihad group were killed in central Gaza, health officials said. The military said it fired at gunmen who tried to plant a bomb near Israel's border fence with the Gaza Strip.

The violence came a day after a Palestinian suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck into a Gaza-Israel border crossing. Although the bomber killed only himself, the attack reinforced skepticism about Egyptian-led truce efforts, and set back Palestinian demands to ease the Israeli-led blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas took control of the coastal territory a year ago.

Abu Ahmad, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said the attack was meant to "send a message" to Israel that if it didn't accept a truce, "Gaza is not going to be a place where you will enjoy stability."

The truce deal has been elusive, with both sides setting tough conditions. Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to open sealed border crossings with Gaza, while Israel demands the return of a captured soldier held in Gaza.

But there were signs that a cease-fire was still on the table. Israeli military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because no formal announcement had been made, confirmed that Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, would travel to Egypt on Sunday for more talks.

Ismail Ridwan, a Hamas leader, said the group has asked the Egyptians for more details on Israel's response to Egypt's truce proposal.

Separately, Israel's military said in a statement Friday that troops discovered missiles and an antitank launcher in the yard of a school in east Gaza, close to Israel's border. Militants have used school grounds to fire rockets into Israel. Children in Gaza do not attend school on Friday.

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