Israel Stages Gaza Raids as PM Faces US Pressure

Israeli warplanes bombed a Hamas security outpost and tunnels by the Gaza border with Egypt late Tuesday in response to a rocket attack as the government faced fresh pressure from the United States to freeze Jewish settlement activity.

Palestinian medics said a woman in Gaza suffered moderate wounds from one of several air strikes against tunnels Israel says are used to smuggle weapons into the coastal territory.

Another raid targeted a Hamas outpost near a border fence with Israel, a Hamas source said, after a rocket fired from the coastal territory struck an Israeli town.

The Israeli attacks were the first against the Islamic group since a Jan. 18 ceasefire ended Israel’s massive offensive on the Gaza strip that left more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the air raids saying Israel targeted four border tunnels and two sites in Gaza where weapons were produced, in response to rocket and mortar fire aimed at Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Earlier a rocket fired from Gaza damaged a home in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, causing no injury. None of the fighting groups in Gaza claimed responsibility for the attack. The rocket was the first to strike inside an Israeli town in several weeks.
PM Faces Pressure in the U.S.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on his first visit to Washington since taking over as prime minister less than two months ago, resisted the U.S. pressure to freeze Jewish settlement activity.

He also said Palestinians need to make concessions, and underscored Israeli worries about Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a press conference to drive home the U.S. position on settlements in the West Bank, and the issue was raised directly with Netanyahu by Senator John Kerry during a visit to the U.S. Congress.

"The president (Barack Obama) was very clear yesterday in his statement that he wants to see a stop to the settlements," Clinton told reporters.
"I hosted a dinner for Prime Minister Netanyahu later in the day at the State Department and we reiterated that that is the position and policy of the United States government."

She added the United States is "committed to a two-state solution and obviously underlying that commitment is the conviction that the Palestinians deserve a viable state."

"And therefore nothing should be done to undermine the potential resolution of the peace effort that could prevent such a two-state solution from taking hold."

After meeting with Kerry, Netanyahu said he wanted to renew the Palestinian peace process "immediately," in tandem with an effort to gain backing from Arab states for efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was encouraged by the meeting but emphasized the issue of Jewish settlements.

"I reemphasized to the prime minister the importance of Israel moving forward especially in respect to the settlements issue," Kerry said with Netanyahu at his side.

"We also emphasized that this is not a one way street and the burden is not only on Israel to take all the steps," he said.
He said it was vital that the Arab world also "takes steps to indicate its willingness to contribute to the progress on the road towards peace."

The Israeli prime minister made the rounds of Congress a day after a White House meeting with Obama in which the two appeared at odds in their approaches to Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The prime minister said he would pursue "the advancement of peace between us and the Palestinians" — omitting talk of a Palestinian state — as well as normal relations with the broader Arab world.
( English and Agencies)

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