Gaza Militants Attack Southern Israel

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Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit a factory in the Israeli town of Sderot on Sunday, wounding one person, and the Israelis pressed ahead with their offensive in the territory.

The militant group Hamas took responsibility for firing rockets toward Israel at about the same time Sderot was hit near the Israeli-Gaza border.

On June 28, Israel moved tanks and troops into Gaza and started an intensive campaign of airstrikes after Hamas-linked militants tunneled under the border and attacked an Israeli army post at a crossing point, killing two soldiers and capturing a third. The offensive also is aimed at stopping militants from firing homemade rockets into southern Israel.

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Palestinian officials said they have not received a response to their demand that Israel guarantee that it will free women, children and long-serving Palestinian prisoners before an Israeli soldier seized by Gaza militants is released.

Dr. Salah Bardawil, a senior Hamas official, said Israel's refusal to guarantee that it would release any Palestinian prisoners if the soldier were freed had created a stalemate.

Early Saturday, some Israeli tanks moved back into Gaza, a day after completing a two-day raid in the northern part of the seaside strip in which 30 Palestinians were killed. Most were armed militants, but some were civilians, including an elderly woman and a child.

Late Saturday, residents reported Israeli tanks moving in a buffer zone east of Gaza City, a frequent area of Israeli operations to try to stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets at Israeli communities.

In airstrikes early Sunday, Israeli aircraft destroyed a house belonging to a militant in Gaza City, residents said. Israel warned the occupants to leave, and the house was empty. Another target was the house of a militant leader in the town of Beit Hanoun. Eight people were wounded in the attacks, three seriously, hospital officials said.

Also, Israeli aircraft fired missiles near the southern town or Rafah, knocking out electricity. The Israelis said they were aiming at a site where Palestinians were tunneling under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Since Israel pulled out of Gaza last summer, turning control of the border over to Egypt and the Palestinians, the Israeli military has said that cross-border smuggling of weapons and explosives has increased considerably.

Violence also took place in the West Bank.

Israeli troops arrested two men with an explosives belt near the northern town of Nablus on Sunday, the army said. The men were taken for questioning and the belt was detonated, the army said.

Israeli troops also killed a top leader of the violent Islamic Jihad in a West Bank raid Saturday, the group said.

In announcements Saturday from mosque loudspeakers, Islamic Jihad said the leader of its militant wing in Nablus, Hani Awijan, 29, was killed by Israeli undercover troops. They came to arrest him while he was playing soccer with friends and relatives, the group said. Another Islamic Jihad militant was also killed.

The army confirmed soldiers operated in Nablus and said a militant was killed in an exchange of fire.

Israel Radio said Awijan was responsible for a series of attacks on Israelis. Over the past 17 months, Islamic Jihad has been responsible for all 12 suicide bombing attacks in Israel, killing 71 people.

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