BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip (AP) – Missiles fired from an Israeli aircraft struck a car in this northern Gaza town Friday, killing a Palestinian militant and escalating the bloodletting that has dimmed the prospects for peacemaking following Israel’s pullout from the coastal strip.

Earlier in the day, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz issued a pessimistic outlook for reaching a peace deal with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, saying in published comments that Abbas was too weak to negotiate a permanent accord. Palestinians accused Mofaz of giving voice to an Israeli policy that favors occupation.

The Israeli military said its aircraft targeted the white Subaru in Beit Hanoun because the militants inside were on a mission to fire rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. No hits were reported in Sderot, but the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a group affiliated with Abbas’ governing Fatah party, said an Israeli drone targeted its members after the rockets were already fired.

An Al Aqsa spokesman, using the code name Abu Ahmed, said Israel would “pay a heavy price for this crime.”

The dead man was identified as Majid Natat, 28, of the Gaza town of Beit Lahia, frequently used for rocket launches against Israel.

Early Saturday, Israeli jets fired missiles in three separate attacks in the northern Gaza Strip, but no injuries were reported. The military said the sites were used to launch attacks on Israel.

In the first attack, aircraft bombarded a road joining Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia, destroying it in an apparent effort to block militants from approaching the border area, less than one mile away. A second round of missiles hit an open area east of Bit Hanoun, and a third targeted a site near the dismantled Israeli settlement of Dugit.

A week of bloodshed began Monday when Israeli troops killed the top gunman from the Islamic Jihad militant group in the West Bank. An Islamic Jihad revenge suicide bombing Wednesday killed five Israelis in the central Israeli town of Hadera.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon threatened a “broad and relentless” offensive against militants, including mass arrests and airstrikes, and declared he would not meet Abbas until the Palestinian leader took “serious and tangible action” to crack down on militants. The two men haven’t met since Israel’s Gaza pullout last month because of violent confrontations between the two sides.

On Thursday evening in Gaza’s Jebaliya refugee camp, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a car carrying four Islamic Jihad members, killing them and three bystanders.

Among those killed was Shadi Mohanna, Islamic Jihad’s field commander for northern Gaza. About 20,000 mourners, including hundreds of masked gunmen, turned out for the victims’ funeral Friday, parading the bodies on stretchers from a mosque near Jebaliya.

Israeli helicopters repeatedly fired missiles at rocket-launching areas in northern Gaza late Thursday and early Friday, and Palestinian militants fired a rocket, a mortar and an anti-tank missile from Gaza into southern Israel. No fatalities were reported in any of the incidents.

Since Israel pulled its settlers and troops out of Gaza in an operation completed last month, it has pledged not to tolerate any attacks from Gaza. In comments published in Israel’s Yediot Ahronot daily on Friday, Mofaz said Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen, did not have the power to conclude a final peace deal.

“Abu Mazen is a one-man show,” Mofaz was quoted as saying. “Behind him, there is nothing, only emptiness. Governmental vacuum. In fact, there is no one to talk to”

Mofaz said the best that could be expected was another round of interim agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. “I’m not at all sure that we can ever reach a peace agreement with the present Palestinian leadership,” Mofaz told the paper. “We shall have to wait for the next generation.”

Mofaz’s comments are in line with Sharon’s preference for a long-term interim deal that would allow Israel to avoid dealing with explosive issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“This is not news,” said Palestinian Planning Minister Ghassan Khatib. “This Israeli government is about consolidating the occupation. This Israeli government is about the expansion of settlements. So it doesn’t come as a surprise at all. This is what we expect them to say.”

Without international intervention, peace talks on the basis of the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan will remain stalled, as they have been in the more than two years since the plan was accepted by both sides, Khatib said.

AP-ES-10-28-05 1859EDT


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