GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli aircraft struck two targets in the Gaza Strip and a militant died in a clash with troops on the border Monday, as an official of the moderate Palestinian government accused Hamas of trying to boost hawkish candidates in Israel's election.
The violence a day before the vote came while Egyptian mediators continued their effort to cement a long-term cease-fire between Hamas and Israel after the three weeks of intense fighting that wracked the coastal territory last month.
Israel's military said the two airstrikes early in the day targeted militants positions and were a response to rocket fire from Gaza aimed at southern Israel on Sunday.
The military also said soldiers spotted an armed militant trying to sneak into Israel from Gaza overnight and opened fire, after which a bomb belt the man was wearing detonated. The militant group Islamic Jihad said that one of its fighters had been killed, but blamed an airstrike.
Riad Malki, foreign minister in the moderate Palestinian government based in the West Bank, charged that Gaza's Hamas rulers were firing rockets into Israel in hopes of influencing Tuesday national election.
He said Hamas didn't want to see a pro-peace government elected in Israel because it would pursue a political deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Islamic militant group "wants instability in the region," Malki said during a visit to Poland.
Abbas' government is "very much worried" that the rocket attacks might "really push Israeli public opinion and the voters to vote for an anti-peace government," Malki told reporters in Warsaw.
The violence coincided with stepped-up efforts to strengthen the shaky cease-fire that ended Israel's devastating offensive. Israel unilaterally ended its offensive Jan. 18 and Hamas announced its own cease-fire the same day, but clashes have continued.
In talks being mediated by Egypt, Hamas is seeking to get Gaza's blockaded border crossings open, while Israel wants an end to arms smuggling into the territory and the return of a soldier captured in June 2006.
A delegation of Hamas leaders from Gaza was in Damascus, Syria, on Monday to consult with the Islamic movement's exiled leadership and was expected to travel to Cairo later in the day.
Because Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza since Hamas gunmen seized control of the territory in June 2007, most Gazans depend on U.N. food and other aid.
U.N. shipments were cut off last week after Hamas officials took thousands of U.N. blankets, food parcels and tons of rice and flour. On Monday, John Ging, head of U.N. relief operations in Gaza, said Hamas officials returned the cargo and U.N. officials had lifted its freeze.
The United Naitons is under pressure to show international donors that it is independent of Hamas as it seeks funding to rebuild the territory since the cease-fire. The United States, Israel and the European Union consider Hamas to be a terrorist group.