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Israeli jets target Gaza tunnels

Palestinian men look down a smuggling tunnel near the Gaza border with Egypt (22/01/09)
Tunnel smuggling resumed shortly after the cease-fires were declared

Israeli air strikes have targeted the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, as part of Israel's response to an attack on one of its frontier patrols on Tuesday.

Residents near the town of Rafah fled as missiles hit tunnels through which Israel says militants smuggle arms.

The strikes came ahead of US envoy George Mitchell's visit to promote a permanent Israel-Hamas ceasefire.

Both sides declared ceasefires on 17 and 18 January to end Israel's three-week offensive on Gaza.

The land, air and sea assault killed about 1,300 Palestinians, including 400 children. Thirteen Israelis died.

It is not clear whether there were any casualties from the airstrikes, but the latest violence is a sign of just how fragile the truce is, says the BBC's Bethany Bell in Jerusalem.

Push for peace

Israel had responded to Tuesday's roadside bomb - which killed one soldier and wounded three - by immediately sending troops and tanks into Gaza backed by helicopters.

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Israeli air attacks are in response to the bombing of a jeep on patrol

Ensuing fighting around the town of Khan Younis and the Kissufim border crossing left one Palestinian dead, medical sources said.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened further strikes, saying the incursion was merely an initial reaction and that Israel's full response was still to come, Haaretz newspaper reported on its website.

Both Mr Mitchell and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana are in the region to push for peace talks.

Mixed with the rubble and shrapnel on the floor is a shell collection, a pink hairbrush, belts, handbags, a fragment of cardboard printed with a Barbie and lots of school books, caked with dried blood
Jeremy Bowen

Mr Mitchell, newly appointed by US President Barack Obama, is to hold talks with Mr Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, although correspondents say he is not expected to meet Hamas officials.

He has already held talks in Cairo about Egypt's mediation efforts.

Israeli and Palestinian faction representatives have visited Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials since the ceasefires came into effect.

Hamas wants an end of Israel's punishing blockade of Gaza. Israel wants a long-term ceasefire and curbs on Hamas rearming.

During Mr Mitchell's visit, Israelis will want to hear what ideas the US has for advancing the peace process, as well as how Washington will tackle the Iranian nuclear issue, our correspondent says. But with Israeli elections due to take place in two weeks, it is likely the US envoy will spend much of his time listening, as Mr Obama has asked him to do, our correspondent adds.

Mr Mitchell's visit is being seen by many Israelis as a sign of US engagement, and by others as a sign of pressure.

Tunnels working

The Gaza Strip's southern frontier is peppered with tunnels into Egypt that were pummelled by air-strikes during Israel's offensive.

One of Israel's stated goals was to halt the smuggling of weapons - including rockets that were being fired against Israeli towns - into the coastal enclave through the network of tunnels.

But smuggling resumed shortly after the non-negotiated cease-fires were declared.

Residents along the border say food, fuel and other goods are moving through the several dozen tunnels that are still operational.

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