The latest attack came early Friday morning as Israeli aircraft fired missiles east of Gaza City, killing four Palestinians, at least three of them Hamas militants, and wounding six people, Hamas and Palestinian doctors said. There was no immediate Israeli comment. Two other strikes followed but there was no word of any casualties, the doctors said.
Israel says the strikes are in retaliation for more than 50 rockets that Hamas has launched against Israel over the past three days in an apparent attempt to divert attention from Palestinian infighting, CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey.
"Hamas killed a lot of fellow Palestinians, some in brutal executions and ambushes, so a good way to divert attention from that was to draw Israel into the fighting," says CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. "If Hamas is targeted by Israel, it wins immediate sympathy from the public and also unites the Palestinians. Instead of fighting each other, they'll turn their attention to fighting a common enemy — Israel."
But the Palestinians have so far managed to kill more of their own than the Israelis have. Fatah gunmen even opened fire Thursday on a funeral for Hamas fighters killed in earlier street battles, adds Pizzey.
"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.
The strikes, a series of Israeli attacks Thursday, and the reported movement of a handful of tanks a few hundred yards into the northern Gaza Strip, followed days of Hamas rocket barrages into Israel.
Street fighting between the Palestinian factions that has gripped Gaza since the weekend calmed under a truce agreement, but clashes still killed at least four people — a day after 22 died in the worst battles during a year of factional bloodshed.
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. Israel's government said its attacks were intended solely to discourage rocket attacks on southern Israel.
Analysts said Israeli policy makers were likely trying to walk a narrow line to avoid uniting Palestinian factions into a common front against Israel.
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, who appeared to have been outfought in the latest round of battles. Hamas fighters have clearly been more motivated in the current fighting and earlier battles in December.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Israel had shown "great restraint" in exercising its right to self defense and warned Hamas it would never achieve a Palestinian state unless it chose peace and worked with Fatah.
"They're not going to see it by launching Qassam rockets into Israel. They're not going to see it by attacking the legitimate security forces of the Palestinian Authority. They're not going to see it by sending young people armed with suicide vests to blow up other Israeli youngsters," McCormack said.
A day after bombing two Hamas targets, Israeli aircraft struck a Hamas command center, a trailer housing bodyguards and two vehicles Thursday.
reports Sderot's terrorized residents are accusing the government of doing nothing.
Thursday's airstrikes came on the fifth day of factional fighting that appeared to be tearing apart a Hamas-Fatah unity government formed two months ago in hopes of ending such clashes and also killing any hope of renewed peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians.
In all, 46 Palestinians had been killed by the infighting since Sunday. But street clashes ebbed Thursday and Gazans who had been trapped in their homes the previous day hurried out to stock up on bread, bottled water and other supplies.
"I have run out of cigarettes and I'm almost out of mineral water. I don't have many diapers left," said grocer Ghassan Abu al-Qas.
No one stayed outside long, though, fearing a resumption of fighting. Few cars and trucks ventured out.
Israel's airstrikes 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.