Israel Launches New Airstrikes on Hamas

Israeli airstrikes targeted Hamas for a fifth straight day Saturday, hitting a rocket squad and two workshops in Gaza, and the defense minister warned militants who attack Israel they should be "very afraid."

But Defense Minister Amir Peretz also said now is not the time for a major Israeli ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Hospital officials said two Palestinians were killed and four wounded in the latest Israeli strikes.

Days of Israeli air attacks on Hamas targets have coincided with a surge in deadly infighting between Hamas gunmen and rivals from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction.

On Saturday, the two groups reached a new cease-fire deal, pledging to pull fighters off the streets and exchange hostages, officials from both sides said.

Previous truce agreements quickly collapsed in recent days, and it was not clear whether this one would hold. Failure to stanch the bloodshed would spell the end of the shaky power-sharing agreement Hamas and Fatah reached two months ago to end a previous round of internal strife.

Clashes erupted outside the home of a senior Fatah official in Gaza City as the latest truce was reached, and security officials said several people were wounded. In the course of the gunbattle, the convoy of a Fatah-allied colonel in the Palestinian intelligence came under fire, but no one was hurt.

Later, however, teams of representatives from the various Palestinian militant factions went around to buildings to make sure gunmen had come down from rooftops. Once rooftops are cleared, an exchange of an unknown number of hostages kidnapped during the past week is to begin. Other faction members removed roadblocks that had been erected during the fighting to identify gunmen from rival factions.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said he expected the latest truce to stick because of Israel's military strikes.

"No one would accept to fight one another while the Israelis are shelling Gaza," he said.

Israel launched its latest round of airstrikes on Tuesday to counter a stepped-up barrage of Hamas rockets on Israeli border towns. The militant group, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, has fired nearly 120 rockets at southern Israel since Tuesday, the military said.

On Saturday, Israel missiles slammed into a rocket squad near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, the army said.

Earlier in the day, missile strikes demolished two suspected Hamas metal workshops.

Saturday's two deaths brought to 22 the number of Palestinians killed in airstrikes in the past week.

Peretz warned militants involved in rocket operations should be "very afraid," because "it is our intention to act against Hamas."

"We are mainly focusing on sensitive locations tied to Hamas," he told Israel Radio, adding that these locations included rocket workshops.

Asked whether Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and the head of Hamas' military wing, Ahmed Jaberi, could also be targets, Peretz said he would not rule out any action that "makes it clear to everyone that we don't intend to allow anyone to harm Israeli citizens."

At the same time, he said Israel would not embark on a major offensive in the Gaza Strip because it had other, unspecified tools in its arsenal to use against rocket-launchers.

Israel's Security Cabinet is to meet on Sunday with senior defense officials to discuss the rocket attacks and how to respond, Israel media reported.

Four rockets hit the border area Saturday, causing damage, but no injury. A day earlier, four Israelis were hurt in rocket attacks.

Peretz said Israel is worried by Hamas' efforts to extend the range of its rockets, which include training in Iran.

The Israeli airstrikes have driven Hamas fighters out of their bases, prompting accusations that Israel is helping Fatah.

Peretz insisted Israel is not interfering in the internal fighting. However, he also said that "we certainly would like the moderate forces to emerge with the upper hand," a reference to Fatah.

The weeklong Hamas-Fatah fighting has killed more than 50 Palestinians and wounded dozens.

By mid-afternoon, Hamas and Fatah announced they had reached a new cease-fire deal, negotiated in a meeting at the Egyptian Embassy and endorsed by Abbas and Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal.

"The main guarantee is that this agreement was reached by ... Mr. Abbas and Mr. Mashaal," Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said. "We are trying to have an atmosphere of national unity and reconciliation. The most important thing is to stop any form of internal violence between Palestinians."

Abbas and Haniyeh, the most senior Hamas politician in Gaza, have so far failed to calm the situation, indicating they have largely lost control to the gunmen and their political patrons.

Abbas has stayed in his West Bank headquarters during the fighting. Palestinian officials said he was told by security advisers not to travel to Gaza, for fear of possible danger to his life.