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Israel strikes in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israel pounded more Hamas targets with air strikes, killing 10 people and wounding dozens as it stepped deeper into fighting between Hamas and the rival Fatah fighters of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israel pounded more Hamas targets with air strikes, killing 10 people and wounding dozens as it stepped deeper into fighting between Hamas and the rival Fatah fighters of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The latest attack came early today as Israeli aircraft fired missiles east of Gaza City, killing four Palestinians, at least three of them Hamas fighters, and wounding six people, Hamas and Palestinian doctors said.

There was no immediate Israeli comment. Two other strikes followed, but there was no word of any casualties, the doctors said.

The strikes, a series of Israeli attacks yesterday, and the reported movement of a handful of tanks a few hundred yards into the northern Gaza Strip followed days of Hamas rocket barrages into Israel.

Street fighting between the Palestinian factions that has gripped Gaza since the weekend calmed under a truce agreement, but clashes still killed at least four people - a day after 22 died in the worst battles during a year of factional bloodshed.

There was no sign of any Israeli military buildup that would indicate plans for a serious intervention into chaotic Gaza, though a few tanks and soldiers moved just across the Gaza border. Israel's government said its attacks were intended solely to discourage rocket attacks on southern Israel.

"Israel will take every defensive measure to stop these rocket attacks," government spokeswoman Miri Eisen said. "We will defend our citizens against the rockets, against the weapons, against the Iranian-backed Hamas who are attacking Israel."

Analysts said Israeli policymakers were most likely trying to walk a narrow line to avoid uniting Palestinian factions into a common front against Israel.

Hamas mounted accusations on its Web sites, radio and TV that Abbas-linked forces were working with Israel - an allegation dismissed as "absurd" by a Fatah spokesman.

Although Israel said it was not taking sides, the air strikes did make it more difficult for Hamas gunmen to move around, and that could help Fatah's fighters, who appeared to have been outfought in the latest round of battles. Hamas fighters have clearly been more motivated in the current fighting and earlier battles in December.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Israel had shown "great restraint" in exercising its right to self-defense. He warned Hamas it would never achieve a Palestinian state unless it chose peace and worked with Fatah.

Said McCormack: "They're not going to see it by launching Qassam rockets into Israel. They're not going to see it by attacking the legitimate security forces of the Palestinian Authority. They're not going to see it by sending young people armed with suicide vests to blow up other Israeli youngsters."

A day after bombing two Hamas targets, Israeli aircraft struck a Hamas command center, a trailer housing bodyguards and two vehicles yesterday, citing the firing by Hamas of more than 50 rockets at the Israeli border town of Sderot over three days.

Busloads of Sderot residents sought shelter away from the frontier. Israeli media said more than 2,000 of the town's 24,000 people had left.

Yesterday's air strikes came on the fifth day of factional fighting that appeared to be tearing apart a Hamas-Fatah unity government formed two months ago in hopes of ending such clashes - and also killing any hope of renewed peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians.

In all, 46 Palestinians had been killed by the infighting since Sunday. But street clashes ebbed yesterday, and Gazans who had been trapped in their homes the previous day hurried out to stock up on bread, bottled water and other supplies.

"I have run out of cigarettes," said grocer Ghassan Abu al-Qas, "and I'm almost out of mineral water. I don't have many diapers left."

No one stayed outside long, though, fearing a resumption of fighting. Few cars and trucks ventured out.

Israel's air strikes complicated an already chaotic situation in Gaza, making the embattled Abbas even more vulnerable to Hamas accusations he is in Israel's pocket. With his aides citing security concerns, Abbas canceled a trip yesterday to Gaza for talks with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

Israel had remained on the sidelines during the infighting, but security officials said the military had to respond to the attacks on Sderot. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was under intense public pressure to respond to the Hamas barrage, and he visited the town late yesterday to tell residents they should not feel alone, his office said.

Palestinian Fighting Vexes Arab Leaders

Arab governments appear unsure how

to stop the wave of Palestinian fighting, which threatens to wreck faltering

efforts to resume the Arab-Israeli

peace process.

Arabs watched television footage of the Gaza fighting in despair. "May God curse you all," Egyptian columnist

Ahmed Ragab wrote.

The chaos is a blow to U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia, that have tried for months to mediate an end to the disputes between Hamas and the Fatah faction led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Saudi Arabia has kept silent about the clashes in Gaza since they began five days ago, a sign of its anger at the two sides and its reluctance to get involved.

- Associated Press