- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel launched rapid-fire air strikes against Palestinian militants across the Gaza Strip today after rebuffing a proposed cease-fire by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

Israel is threatening to expand its offensive unless militants release Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier abducted in a cross-border raid on June 25, and halt rocket fire on Israeli cities.

At least three militants were injured in an early morning air strike near the Karni commercial crossing, Palestinian medics and police said.

Israel also bombed a key bridge in northern Gaza, despite an appeal from the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to stop targeting the strip’s fragile infrastructure.

“As I have repeatedly stated, I am extremely concerned about the dangerous situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. I am appealing for urgent action to alleviate the desperate humanitarian situation of the civilian population,” Mr. Annan said.

“The Israeli air strikes on Gaza’s only power plant have had a far-reaching impact on Gaza’s hospitals, flour mills, water and sanitation systems,” he said.

The army said the goal was to prevent militants from transporting rockets to launch sites.

In southern Gaza, Israel bombed a militant training camp. No one was hurt. “It was being used to direct attacks,” an army spokesman said.

Israel killed seven Palestinians yesterday, including a 6-year-old girl and a policeman, Palestinian witnesses said.

About 50 Palestinians — and one Israeli soldier — have been killed so far in the offensive, began on June 28 to pile pressure on the Hamas-led Palestinian government, already on the brink of financial collapse from a Western aid embargo.

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