Truce Shattered In Gaza

Smoke rises from an explosion following an Israeli airstrike on a building used by the militant group Hamas in Gaza City, Thursday, May 17, 2007.
AP
Gunfire erupted at a Hamas funeral procession Thursday, killing two people and wounding 14 others, Palestinian medical officials said. It was unclear who fired the bullets, but the unrest threatened to unravel a lull in the fighting.

Meanwhile, the five-month-old cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is unraveling, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. Israel launched air strikes against Hamas Thursday, while a small number of Israeli tanks edged into the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, taking up positions near the border fence.

"Israel will take all the necessary action to defend its citizens and sovereignty," Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said. At the same time, reports Berger, Israel has ruled out a major military offensive in Gaza, fearing high civilian casualties and international condemnation.

Also Thursday, Hamas said one of its men was kidnapped and executed by security forces loyal to the rival Fatah movement. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas postponed a planned visit to the Gaza Strip after the new outbreak of violence, but aide Saeb Erekat said Abbas was determined to travel to Gaza in the next day or two. "The reason for the trip is to stop the fighting," he said.

(AP)
Palestinian rockets continued to land Thursday on the Israeli border town of Sderot. One hit a high school (left), causing significant damage and lightly wounding two students, said the Jerusalem Post.

reports Sderot's terrorized residents are accusing the government of doing nothing.

"We're on the front lines of a war. We have a very strong army, but instead of the army coming to our defense, they're just allowing us to suffer," said one resident.

Israel said its attacks on Hamas were retaliation for dozens of rockets fired by Hamas at Israel over the past few days, reports Berger. The targets included a compound in Gaza City, a car the army said was carrying a rocket squad, and a trailer housing Hamas security men. Hamas, in turn, vowed to retaliate for the air strikes with suicide bombings.

The funeral was for two Hamas fighters killed during the latest wave of Palestinian factional violence. Witnesses said members of the procession were firing their weapons into the air — a common practice at Palestinian funerals — when unknown assailants began shooting at them.

In local radio broadcasts, Fatah and Hamas officials accused each other of violating the latest cease-fire meant to halt this week's factional fighting in Gaza.

A total of 22 people were killed on Wednesday, as gunfire and explosions raged across Gaza City in the most widespread fighting in nearly a year of clashes between Hamas and Fatah.

Raging street battles have turned the densely populated seaside city into a war zone, putting terrified civilians increasingly at risk. During the fighting, masked gunmen took over otherwise deserted streets, trapping frightening residents in their homes.

"I have seen a lot in my years as a journalist in Gaza, but this is the worst it's been," said Associated Press reporter Ibrahim Barzak.

The violence has left the fragile unity government in tatters, though Fatah and Hamas leaders have said they hope to preserve the coalition. A main goal of the alliance, formed in March, was to halt months of factional violence, but the unity deal never addressed a key area of dispute — control over Palestinian security forces.

Jordan's King Abdullah II said Thursday he was "very concerned" by the wave of inter-Palestinian fighting in Gaza and warned that more violence will come unless progress is made in the peace process.

"I'm very concerned about the violence in Gaza. It must stop for the sake of the Palestinian people and for the sake of Palestine," Abdullah told a gathering of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian peace activists.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.