Washington has attacked Israel's latest deadly raid in the Gaza Strip, condemning the "increasing use" of house demolitions as a means combating Palestinian militant attacks.
Mahmoud el-Makadma's pregnant wife died in the raid
Eight Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed during an Israeli onslaught in a refugee camp at Bureij, in central Gaza, on Monday, the second raid in as many days.
Palestinian hospital officials said a pregnant 33-year-old woman was killed by falling masonry when the army blew up a house during the raid.
"We continue to be seriously concerned about civilian casualties and we have urged the Israeli Government to take appropriate caution to prevent the death or injury of innocent civilians and damage to civilian humanitarian structures," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
But Mr Boucher added that the US "understands the need for Israel to defend itself against ongoing violence and terror" and urged the Palestinians to stop targeting Israelis.
We are deeply concerned about the increasing Israeli use of demolition, and the civilian deaths that have
resulted from this practice
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher
The US, Israel's greatest financial sponsor, has been seeking a period of quiet in the West Bank and Gaza as it tries to win support from Arab and Muslim countries for a war against Iraq.
Palestinians however see Israel's latest offensive as an effort to deal militant groups a fatal blow before any US campaign. They believe that afterwards, Israel may be constrained by US pressure to compensate the Arab world by reining in the Jewish state.
"We believe the aim of the attacks is to create conditions on the
ground before the war in the region in order to destroy more of the
foundations of the Palestinian Authority," said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.
During Monday's raid on Bureij, Israeli troops arrested
a founder member of the Hamas, reported to be the
first political leader of the group to be detained since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.
Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi said Sheikh Mohammed Taha's arrest was a big loss to the group.
"But this does not mean that Hamas is going to stop resistance. Israel will pay a high price for all its crimes," he was quoted as saying.
This escalation is clearly ahead of the likely war with
Palestinian Information Minister
Yasser Abed Rabbo
The Israeli army also said it had demolished four houses belonging to militants during the operation.
At least four civilians were killed in Monday's raid, as well as a policeman and a Hamas member. It is not clear whether two other men who died were armed.
Thirty-five people meanwhile were reported to have been wounded.
After the incursion, Palestinian militants fired a rocket from Gaza into the Israeli town of Sderot, Israeli police said. No one was injured in the attack.
Israel has launched a series of raids into Gaza since a bomb planted by the Islamic group Hamas killed four Israeli tank crewmen there a fortnight ago.
Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz had pledged on Sunday that the raids would continue.
"In the Gaza Strip, we are going to intensify the pressure on Hamas, as we have done in the past weeks, and we are going to do the same thing in the West Bank."
During the 29-month-long Palestinian uprising, Israel has frequently targeted the family homes of militants in an attempt to discourage attacks on its citizens.
Palestinians condemn the measure as collective punishment.
More than 1,800 Palestinians and more than 700 Israelis have been killed since the present intifada erupted in September 2000.