Israeli air strike killed five Palestinians
GAZA, May 5: An Israeli air strike killed five Palestinians today at a training camp used by militants in the Gaza Strip further dampening peace prospects in the region.
The Israeli military said the strike targeted a camp used by the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), an umbrella group of militants that often fires makeshift rockets into Israel.
''There was an aerial attack on a training compound of the PRC while terrorists were training there,'' an Israeli military spokeswoman said.
The Israeli military has recently stepped up air strikes against militants as well as artillery barrages against what it says are rocket launch sites used by militants.
This is the first air strike since Israel's new government took office yesterday under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Firing rifles in the air outside the morgue, militants vowed revenge against Israel. ''We will respond with waves of rocket firings into Israel and the Zionist settlements near Gaza,'' PRC spokesman Abu Sharif told Reuters.
Peace hopes remain dim since militant Islamist group Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority in March after beating Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas's long-dominant Fatah movement in January's Parliamentary election.
Ghazi Hamad, Palestinian cabinet spokesman, told Reuters: ''The crime today (in Gaza) is a blood soaked message sent by Olmert to the international community.'' Palestinian medics named one of the dead as Juma Doghmash, brother of Mumtaz Doghmash, a PRC commander sought by Israel for attacks. Mumtaz Doghmash, regarded as a strong ally of Hamas, was not at the scene when the air strike took place.
Abbas arrived in Gaza today for talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. But officials said the meeting was likely to be postponed until tomorrow due to the violence. Abbas was expected to discuss Hamas adopting the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which offers Israel peace in return for land captured in the 1967 West Asia war. It would involve Hamas recognising Israel. Rows over security responsibilities between Abbas's office and the government was also on the agenda.
Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction and says talks with Israel would be a waste of time. The group refuses to disarm.
ABBAS, OLMERT SPEAK
Earlier today, Abbas spoke with Olmert about trying to revive peace talks, senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said.
Erekat added that Abbas and Olmert would meet when the Israeli leader returned from a trip to the United States. An official in Olmert's office denied any meeting had been planned but said the two had spoken earlier.
A statement from Olmert's office did not mention any discussion of peace talks.
Israeli officials have said Olmert will visit Washington later this month where he is expected to present to President George W Bush his plans to impose Israel's final borders by 2010 if peacemaking with the Palestinians remains frozen.
Olmert has said his coalition government would prefer peace talks with the Palestinians over unilateral moves.
But he reaffirmed yesterday that Israel would not deal with a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas unless the Islamic group recognised the Jewish state and renounced violence.
Israeli officials have also questioned whether Abbas, a moderate who seeks a two-state solution to end the conflict, could deliver on any peace agreements with Hamas in power.
The new government continues to face diplomatic isolation and aid cuts from donors.