3 killed in third day of Gaza-Israel violence

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Cross-border fighting between Gaza and Israel, sparked by Israel killing a top militant leader, showed no signs of letting up on its third day Sunday.

Gaza militants fired dozens of rockets at Israeli towns, hitting an empty school, and Israeli airstrikes killed three Gazans, including a boy, 12, and a farm guard, 60.

Egypt tried to mediate but failed to end the violence, the worst in more than a year, that has killed 18 Gazans, all but two of them militants, and disrupted the lives of some 1 million Israelis living in Gaza's rocket range.

Even so, Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers seemed eager to avoid a full-scale conflict. A three-week war three years ago left both sides badly bruised, Israel in the diplomatic arena and Hamas on the battlefield.

In the current round, Hamas has pointedly kept its large rocket arsenal and thousands of fighters out of the confrontation, even though it has not tried to stop two smaller Gaza groups, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, from launching rockets and mortars.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak acknowledged that Hamas did not take part in the rocket salvos. Up to now Israel has blamed Hamas for all violence from Gaza because it rules the territory.

Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said Sunday that "we are not interested in escalation in and of itself."

On a visit to southern Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged the airstrikes would continue as long as necessary. "We have a clear policy: We will hit anyone who plans to harm us, who prepares to harm us and who harms us," he said in a meeting with local leaders.

Israel said it launched Friday's initial airstrike, which killed PRC leader Zuhair al-Qaissi in a car in downtown Gaza, to stop a plan by his splinter group to infiltrate Israel through Egypt's lawless Sinai Peninsula. Israel says the PRC was behind a border attack in August that killed eight Israelis.

The PRC also claimed responsibility for the capture of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, in a cross-border raid with Hamas in 2006.

The groups involved in firing rockets dismissed truce offers presented by Egypt. "We will not give calm for free, and the blood of our leaders and martyrs will not be spilled in vain," said a PRC spokesman who uses the name Abu Mujahed.

Egypt was trying to broker a truce but insisted Israel stop airstrikes first, said Yasser Othman, Egypt's envoy to the Palestinian Authority. Representatives of militant groups were in Cairo for talks.

3 killed in third day of Gaza-Israel violence 03/11/12 [Last modified: Sunday, March 11, 2012 10:29pm]

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