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Israel Launches Third Day of Air Strikes in Gaza


Israel has launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip for the third straight day. The attacks come as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces a showdown in his own party.

Israeli aircraft pounded Palestinian militant targets across Gaza. The army said it targeted weapons factories and storage facilities, after militants fired more than 40 rockets at Israeli towns. Israeli spokesman Ra'anan Gissin says the rules have changed, now that Israel has pulled out of Gaza.

"We are now deployed behind our international border and any attack against Israel is an attack against the sovereignty of the state of Israel, for which he have all the right to exercise our right of self-defense," said Mr. Gissin.

Hamas, the biggest militant group, has gotten the message and says it will halt rocket attacks. But so far, smaller groups like Islamic Jihad have not followed suit.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat appealed to all parties to uphold the seven-month old cease-fire. "I am afraid at the end of the day, violence will breed more violence, bullets will breed more bullets," he said.

The upsurge in violence comes as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces a revolt in his ruling Likud party. The hawkish Likud Central Committee is voting on whether to hold early elections in November to choose a party leader. Mr. Sharon infuriated the Likud by dismantling 21 Gaza settlements, and the party could take revenge by replacing him with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli political analyst Reuven Hazan told Israel Radio that Ariel Sharon is in big trouble.

"The leader will be chosen by a group that wants to get back at Sharon," he said. "Sharon is quite unlikely to be chosen once again to be the leader of the Likud."

But Mr. Sharon has other options. He is threatening to leave the Likud and form a more moderate party. The Prime Minister is popular with the public at large, and polls show his new party could win big over Mr. Netanyahu's Likud.

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