Six killed in exchange of attacks


Militants have fired 1,950 mortar shells and rockets at Israel this year, the Israeli military said.

KFAR AZA, Israel (AP) — Gaza attackers sent mortar shells crashing into a border community late Friday, killing an Israeli in his garden and wounding three others, officials said. Israel retaliated with missile strikes that left five Hamas militants dead.

The surge in violence added pressure on Egyptian-led attempts to halt clashes between Gaza militants and the Israeli military.

Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement claimed responsibility for the deadly mortar fire on Kfar Aza, a communal farm in southern Israel.

Hours later, Israeli aircraft fired missiles that slammed into two Hamas police stations in southern Gaza, killing five militants, Hamas and Gaza health officials said. The Israeli military confirmed the airstrike and said it was responding to attacks on Israel, including the deadly mortar fire on Kfar Aza.

Palestinian militants frequently fire crude rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel from Gaza, killing 14 people since late 2001.

“Hamas is clearly in control of the Gaza Strip and responsible for all hostile fire into Israel. We hold it accountable for today’s attack and the murder of our civilian,” said David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, said militants had targeted an Israeli military position, but the mortar shell went astray.

Dozens of residents milled around the tidy lawn where the 48-year-old Israeli’s body lay. Shrapnel pocked the front of his house. His identity was not disclosed because one of his four children had not yet been notified of his death.

Israeli rescue officials said three people were wounded by shrapnel.

The military said Friday that Palestinian militants have fired 1,950 mortar shells and rockets at Israel since the beginning of the year — almost equal to the amount fired in all of 2007.

The attacks often provoke Israeli airstrikes and ground incursions, although hostilities have ebbed since more than 120 Palestinians were killed in a flare-up of violence two months ago.

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman is expected in Israel early next week to discuss his efforts to wrest a cease-fire from the two sides. It remains unclear whether he will be able to forge a deal.

Israel has not publicly acknowledged truce efforts, though it has said that if militants halt their fire, the military will stop its Gaza raids.

Peace talks have been dogged by disputes over Israeli construction in the West Bank and disputed east Jerusalem, and Israeli security concerns. They suffered another setback recently with the recent police investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s campaign funding practices.

In other violence Friday, a 21-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead in a clash with Israeli settlers north of the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The Israeli military confirmed a shooting involving settlers and an armed Palestinian man, but had no further details.

According to Israeli media, settlers said the Palestinian man fired at them and they shot back. Palestinian villagers said he apparently was hunting when the settlers killed him.

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