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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 July 2006, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
Abbas 'held secret Israel talks'
The damaged foreign ministry building in Gaza City
Israel wants to force Hamas to release a captured soldier
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has secretly met Israel's domestic spy chief to try to broker an end to the crisis in Gaza, reports say.

Mr Abbas is said to have met Yuval Diskin, chief of Israel's Shin Bet security service, in Jordan's capital, Amman, Palestinian sources say.

They say the pair discussed the capture of an Israeli soldier by militants and an ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Dozens of Palestinians have died since Israel launched its assault on Gaza.

The latest Palestinian death occurred early on Friday when Israeli troops fired a tank shell at a vehicle in Qarara, Palestinian doctors said.

One Israeli soldier has been killed in the two-pronged effort to rescue Cpl Gilad Shalit, and reduce the number of rocket attacks against Israeli towns.

'Honest broker'

The United States on Thursday vetoed a UN resolution calling on Israel to halt its military operations in Gaza.

US Ambassador John Bolton said the resolution laid disproportionate blame on Israel for the current crisis.

Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahhar
Everybody here is wanted by Israel, everybody is a target, every house is a target and every tree is a target
Mahmoud Zahhar,
Palestinian Foreign Minister

"Passage would have undermined the credibility of the Security Council, which itself must be seen by both sides as an honest broker in the Middle East conflict," he said.

Ten Security Council members voted in favour of Qatar's motion, while four abstained.

Against a backdrop of escalating violence in Lebanon, where Israel has retaliated after the capture of two soldiers by the Hezbollah militia, a pre-dawn strike on Thursday virtually destroyed the Gaza offices of the Palestinian foreign ministry.

Two of the building's five floors were flattened by a missile, with at least 10 people living nearby injured, Palestinian medics said.

Israel said the raid was aimed at Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahhar, whom it accused of complicity in the capture of Cpl Shalit two weeks ago.

At least 23 civilians also died on Wednesday morning, including nine in one family, in a strike that injured the leader of Hamas' military wing.

Mixed messages

The strike against the foreign ministry occurred at 0130 local time (2230 GMT Wednesday), when the building was likely to have been empty.

Parts of the five-storey building were destroyed, and there was widespread damage to nearby areas.

Israel confirmed the air strike on the Palestinian foreign ministry, and accused Mr Zahhar and Hamas of direct involvement in "terrorism and violence".

"He had knowledge of the recent hostage taking, and he is part of a leadership that has orchestrated rocket attacks, countless rocket attacks, countless missile attacks against Israeli urban areas," said government spokesman Mark Regev.

But the BBC's Wyre Davies, in Gaza City, says that before the attack Mr Zahhar gave a series of media interviews suggesting both sides needed to make a deal.

Speaking after the attack, Mr Zahhar, who has survived previous attempts on his life, appeared unfazed.

"Everybody here is wanted by Israel, everybody is a target, every house is a target and every tree is a target. This is the destructive system built in what is called Israel," he said.


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