A Palestinian tries to extinguish a fire after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, (Photo: AP).
Israeli air raids on Gaza, which have killed 18 people since Friday, were planned in advance and were not in retaliation to an alleged Palestinian plan to launch an attack against Israel through Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronot stated on Sunday.
Alex Fishman cited Israel's security preparations in settlements adjacent to Gaza as evidence that Israel had already planned the attack and to launch drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) into Gaza airspace.
Israel's assassination of Popular Resistance Committee head Zohair Al-Qaisi was aimed at Hamas, claimed Fishman. Israel hoped rocket attacks in response to the attack would present Hamas with tough choices – either support the rocket attacks and risk an Israeli military crackdown, or move against the resistance groups and lose credibility amongst its own supporters, particularly as it has long insisted there is no separation between rule and resistance.
The Israeli army continues to pound Gaza by air, sea and ground. Drones attacked civilian gatherings at dawn on Saturday, killing three, including a child, and injuring ten.
Israeli air strikes have targeted residential areas, destroying houses, cars, motorbikes and fields. City centres have also come under attack.
The leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Khaled Meshaal and Abdullah Shalah, have both condemned the attacks.
Meshaal assured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas is keen to create an atmosphere conducive to stopping hostility against Gaza. Abbas and Gaza PM Ismail Haniya, said they had spoken with Arab governments and other international entities to push Israel to stop its aggression.
Contacts between Palestinian factions and Israel with Egypt are underway to halt the violence.
Sources told Ahram Online that prominent Hamas figure Mahmoud Al-Zahhar had headed to Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials. He would talk about Gaza's power crisis and the formation of a Palestinian unity government as well as the Israeli attacks.
Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority Yasser Osman said it was a race against time to prevent a disastrous scenario developing and Egypt was talking with Palestine and Israel to contain the situation. He refuted Israeli claims that the escalation followed intelligence that the Popular Resistance Committee was planning an operation through Sinai, emphasising that Sinai is under strict control.
Osman considers Israeli claims to be a pretext to attack Gaza.
Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said that sooner or later Israel would have to destroy Hamas in Gaza. In a statement reported by Israeli Radio, he said circumstances in Gaza were "unbearable" and that Israel could not accept rule by Hamas and Islamic Jihad over the long term.
Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz voiced a similar position, stating that Israel must totally isolate Gaza by closing crossings and moving the strip's civil responsibility to Egyptian authorities. He told Israeli Radio that it was ridiculous for Israel to continue aiding its enemies with goods and products, whilst at the same time bearing responsibility for Gaza's civilians.