Page last updated at 16:21 GMT, Thursday, 13 March 2008

Israel jets strike northern Gaza

Palestinians gather round a car with bullet holes in the front windshield after four Palestinian militants were killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Bethlehem
Israeli troops opened fire on a car in Bethlehem

Israeli aircraft have attacked the northern Gaza Strip after Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel.

The violence follows several days of relative calm in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Israeli air force said it was targeting a rocket-firing team. There is no word on casualties.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, addressing a summit of Muslim leaders in Senegal, has called for an immediate ceasefire by both sides.

He condemned what he called Israel's disproportionate and excessive use of force, which he said had killed and injured many civilians, including children.

He also condemned Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, saying: "They serve no purpose, endanger Israeli civilians and bring misery to the Palestinian people."

Militant killed

The Palestinian rocket attacks came several hours after Israeli undercover forces in the West Bank town of Bethlehem shot dead four Palestinian militants.

Those killed included a prominent local leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group.

What the enemy has done undermines any talk of a ceasefire
Dawud Shihab
Islamic Jihad

An Israeli army spokesman said the air strikes were a response to the firing of 12 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel.

Two of those rockets, he added, exploded in the town of Sderot, causing damage to a building but no injuries.

"The Israeli air force raid targeted a rocket launcher that was ready to fire in the Beit Hanoun area in the northern Gaza Strip," he told reporters.

Islamic Jihad said it had fired 15 rockets and 10 mortars.

'Ceasefire undermined'

In Bethlehem, witnesses said a team of Israeli commandos disguised as Palestinians and driving a car with Palestinian number plates had sprayed a car with bullets.

Those killed included Muhammad Shahada, 48, a senior leader of Islamic Jihad, and Ahmed al-Balbul, also 48, a leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Two other members of the Islamic Jihad group also died.

Israeli officials confirmed the raid, saying they had intended to make arrests but opened fire when they saw that three of the militants were armed with assault rifles.

Palestinians mourn the death of four militants killed in a raid in Bethlehem, 12 March 2008
Palestinian officials from Islamic Jihad and Hamas denounced the operation.

"Islamic Jihad and the other resistance groups have the right to respond in any place to this crime of assassination and all options are open," said Dawud Shihab, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza.

"What the enemy has done undermines any talk of a ceasefire."

There had been a lull in the violence in Gaza over the last few days, with the Israeli military reducing operations on Monday, following a sharp drop in rocket fire from Palestinian militants.

Egypt has been working to broker an agreement between the two sides.

On Wednesday, the Palestinian militant group Hamas set out its conditions for a truce, calling for an end to Israeli military operations in Gaza and the re-opening of its borders, in return for halting rocket attacks.

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