Israel Air Strikes - Cockpit View

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From source: "Israel carried out a series of air strikes on Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip"

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israeli planes pounded Hamas targets and rival Palestinian factions exchanged bursts of automatic weapons fire outside Gaza City's Islamic University on Friday, as a volatile mix of Israeli strikes and Palestinian infighting plunged Gaza deeper into chaos.

Five Palestinians were killed in a single airstrike by Israel, which said it was responding to Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel ? a campaign that showed no sign of subsiding Friday. Hamas fired three rockets at the town of Sderot, where three people were injured by shrapnel and several others were treated for shock.

The sound of gunfire and explosions from fighting between Hamas and Fatah rang out for the sixth straight day in Gaza. Outside the Islamic University ? a Hamas stronghold ? one person was wounded from the exchange of fire but it was not immediately known from which side.

Members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' presidential guard and other Fatah loyalists were advancing on Hamas fighters from different directions ? and the house of the university's dean was attacked by rocket propelled grenades, according to Hamas.

In six days of mayhem, 46 Palestinians have died in the infighting and another 17 were killed in Israeli strikes.

The fighting between Hamas and Fatah has all-but destroyed a two-month-old power sharing deal between them, and brought them close to all-out civil war. The Israeli strikes have introduced a new layer of violence and uncertainty ? though a senior army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because no official decision has been made, said Israel had no immediate plans for a major ground offensive to halt rocket fire.

Israeli aircraft fired missiles east of Gaza City on Friday, killing five Palestinians, at least three of them Hamas militants, and wounding six people, Hamas and local doctors said. The military said the target was a Hamas headquarters building. Two other strikes followed but there was no word of any casualties, Palestinian doctors said. The army said it struck at a squad that fired rockets into Israel.

The Palestinian street battles were down from their height two days ago, but the latest cease-fire worked out between the sides was not holding. Gunfire could be heard in many areas, and gunmen who had promised to withdraw from the streets were still manning roadblocks and taking up positions on rooftops.

"Our retaliation for (Fatah's) crimes is going to be beyond their imagination," Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas' military wing, told The Associated Press.

Walid al-Awad, a member of a committee set up to implement the cease-fire, said his team worked late into the night to get the sides to withdraw, but to no avail.

"Nothing has been implemented, and I have warned both sides that this a time bomb that is sabotaging our efforts," al-Awad said.

By most accounts, Hamas' performance in the latest round of internal fighting has been superior to Fatah's, with greater discipline and more motivated fighters.

Although Israel said it wasn't taking sides, the airstrikes did make it harder for Hamas gunmen to move around and that could help Fatah's fighters.

There was no sign of any Israeli military buildup that would indicate plans for a serious intervention into chaotic Gaza, though a few tanks and soldiers moved just across the Gaza border on Thursday.

"Israel will take every defensive measure to stop these rocket attacks. We will defend our citizens against the rockets, against the weapons, against the Iranian-backed Hamas who are attacking Israel," government spokeswoman Miri Eisen said.

Analysts said Israeli policy makers were likely trying to walk a narrow line to avoid uniting Palestinian factions into a common front against Israel but Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a retired general, said Israel could not stand idly by while Palestinian rockets continued to fall.

"We have to show them one thing, that the moment you fire, we shall return fire," he told Israel Radio.

Hamas Web sites, radio and TV carried accusations that forces loyal to Abbas were working with Israel ? a charge dismissed as "absurd" by a Fatah spokesman.

The Israeli strikes complicated an already chaotic situation in Gaza, making the embattled Abbas even more vulnerable to Hamas accusations that he is in Israel's pocket. With his aides citing security concerns, Abbas canceled a Thursday trip to Gaza for talks with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

Israel had remained on the sidelines during the infighting, but security officials said the military had to respond to the rocket attacks on Sderot.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was under intense public pressure to respond to the Hamas barrage, and he visited the town late Thursday to tell residents they shouldn't feel alone, his office said. "I am handling this crisis in order to remove this threat as much as possible," he was quoted as saying.

Olmert is fighting for political survival in the face of plummeting popularity and harsh criticism of his handling of last summer's war in Lebanon.

Still, he probably would be wary of a major ground offensive in Gaza, fearful of another inconclusive effort.

By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer