GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli political and military leaders pledged Sunday to keep up the pressure on Gaza after a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants, a failed attempt to capture a soldier.
Israel responded with a flurry of airstrikes, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet there was more to come. "I said a week ago that our operations in Gaza will continue as long as it takes to block the terrorists attempts to infiltrate and the Qassam rockets," he said.
The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, favors more intensive military activity in Gaza, but stopping short of a full-scale invasion, defense officials said Sunday. They were speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
In parallel, Palestinian infighting continued. A Fatah security officer was pushed to his death off the roof of a 15-story building in Gaza City, security officials said.
Mohammed Sweirki, 25, who served in the Fatah-linked Presidential Guard, was kidnapped earlier by Hamas gunmen near the apartment building.
Almost daily rocket barrages continued throughout a 6-month cease-fire starting last November, but the truce broke down when the Islamic Hamas, which runs the Palestinian government, joined splinter groups in pelting Israeli towns with homemade rockets. Israel has not found a formula for stopping the rocket fire, which has caused little damage and few casualties but disrupted life in Israeli communities near Gaza.
The Saturday cross-border raid was another step up the ladder of the conflict. Four Islamic Jihad gunmen breached the heavily fortified Gaza-Israel border and entered an empty army base, looking for soldiers to abduct. Israeli forces encountered them, killing one. The other three escaped back to Gaza.
Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, claimed responsibility.
Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said the raiders meant to snatch a soldier but the attempt was foiled by Israeli helicopter gunships called in as reinforcements.
"The aim of the operation was to withdraw with the soldier in captivity," he said. "But the participation of Israeli helicopters prevented that."
The dead gunman belonged to Islamic Jihad, he said. The raiders used a vehicle marked with TV signs, drawing criticism from both Israeli and Palestinian journalists.
The Israeli military struck back Sunday, firing missiles at a building used by Islamic Jihad officials and an arms workshop run by Fatah fighters, it said.
More than 60 Palestinians, most of them militants, and two Israeli civilians have been killed since the clashes resumed.
The Palestinian cross-border raid came two weeks short of a year since the last one, when Hamas-linked gunmen tunneled under the border and attacked an Israeli army base from the rear, killing two soldiers and capturing a third.
The capture has been a huge obstacle to political progress in the year that has passed. Israel all but refuses to discuss peace efforts before he is released, and Abbas has been shown powerless to free the soldier despite his repeated declarations that his release is at hand.
Indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas over a prisoner exchange have fizzled.
The fighting between Israel and the Palestinians pre-empted clashes between the Palestinians' two ruling parties, Hamas and Fatah, that broke out in mid-May and left more than 50 Palestinians dead.
A truce declared two weeks ago was meant to end the clashes, but last week the fighting reignited around the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Four militants have been killed in fighting since Thursday. The latest was the Fatah officer pushed off a roof in Gaza city on Sunday.
On Sunday, three houses in Rafah were destroyed, and Hamas militants remained on rooftops. Later Sunday the fighting stopped, shops opened and people were out in the streets.