At least six Palestinians are reported killed following an incursion early Wednesday by Israeli forces into the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip. The Israeli action came after an attack by Palestinian gunmen late Tuesday on a Jewish settlement in northern Gaza in which two young Israelis and two assailants were killed.
Israeli tanks and helicopters struck Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip Wednesday. The focus of the Israeli attack appears to have been the town of Beit Lahia, where four Palestinian security officials were reported killed by an Israeli tank shell. Israeli forces have stepped security around settlements in the area.
The Israeli incursion followed an attack late Tuesday by Palestinian gunmen on the Jewish settlement of Alei Sinai in northern Gaza. The militant Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack on the settlement.
The Palestinian Authority denounced Israel's incursion into Gaza and also denounced the Palestinian attack on Alei Sinai, promising to take action against those responsible.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo accused Israel of using the attack as an excuse to undermine an agreed-upon cease-fire.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of not doing enough to stop the violence, and he said the military would take all necessary measures to protect Israel and its citizens.
The latest incidents further jeopardize an already shaky cease-fire confirmed by both sides a week ago during a meeting in Gaza between Mr. Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Hamas and other radical Islamic and Palestinian groups have said they will not recognize any truce agreement.
A senior Israeli official said Wednesday that if the Palestinian Authority cannot prevent terrorist attacks, Israeli security forces will. Prime Minister Sharon called on the United States and the international community to include Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah on their list of terrorist organizations against which immediate action should be taken.
The latest violence also further hampers U.S. efforts to restore calm and try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, an effort seen as vital if the U.S. is to bring Arab and Muslim nations into its worldwide coalition against terrorism.