By Avi Issacharoff, Amos Harel, Aluf Benn and Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondents, and News Agencies
There were no casualties in the attack on the Hamas Executive Force building between the towns of Khan Yunis and Dir el-Balah. The IDF confirmed it carried out a strike on a Hamas target south of Dir el-Balah, but gave no further details.
A Hamas spokesman told the group's television station that he didn't expect any casualties because the group had evacuated key locations likely to be targeted by Israel.
A senior Israel Defense Forces official said Friday that the military would continue attacking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip for as long as necessary, but expressed reservations regarding an extensive ground operation at this time.
"We have to think from the end to the beginning," he said. "The question is where does an operation like this place us on the day after."
At least 10 Palestinians, most of them Hamas operatives, have been killed in Israeli air strikes since Thursday. Palestinian militants fired about 70 Qassam rockets at the western Negev this week, causing several injuries.
The official said Israel does not know which Hamas leader to speak to about the situation in Gaza, saying that the Hamas military wing in Gaza "operates according to its own considerations" and does not always listen to Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshal.
All the same, he said the clashes between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza are not expected to put Israeli captive soldier Gilad Shalit's life at risk. Shalit was abducted by Palestinian militants near Gaza on June 25.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told dozens of diplomats at a briefing at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv that Israel is not prepared to tolerate continued Qassam fire on the Negev. She said Israel attempted to advance peace by withdrawing from Gaza in 2005, but must now exert pressure on the extremists there.
"Sometimes there are needs to show determination, to put a pressure on the extremists, to put a pressure on these terrorists, in order for them to understand that this is not something that is tolerable," Livni said in an English statement. "I think that for too long the international community took this situation in the south part of Israel as acceptable, as part of life in Israel - and it's not. And enough is enough."
Four Hamas men killed in IAF strikes on Gaza
At least four Hamas operatives were killed in two separate Israel Air Force strikes in the Gaza Strip early Friday. The army said the building targeted in one of the strikes, near the Karni crossing, was used as a meeting place for Hamas members and is suspected of housing a tunnel used to smuggle weapons and contraband into Israel, Israel Radio reported.
Also Friday morning, the army attacked and hit a rocket-launching cell in Gaza after several Qassams were fired at the Sderot area, Israel Radio reported.
Meanwhile, Palestinian militants continued to launch a barrage of Qassam rockets at Israel on Friday. At least nine rockets hit the western Negev in the morning, lightly wounding three Sderot residents, a day after some 30 rockets hit the area.
The cabinet will meet Sunday to decide whether to escalate the military response.
Six Palestinians killed in air strikes Thursday
The IDF stationed artillery batteries along the Israel-Gaza border on Thursday, also for the first time since November, although no shots were fired. Six Palestinians, at least three of whom were Hamas operatives, were killed in five Israeli aerial attacks on Gaza on Thursday. Such strikes are expected to continue in the coming days.
Palestinian sources said three of the casualties were a father and his two sons. However, the IAF said it had fired a missile at a car in Rafah carrying a launch crew that had fired rockets at nearby Kerem Shalom shortly before.
The tank incursions, accompanied by infantry, took place at two locations in Gaza - the Strip's northern tip, and a ridge west of Sderot. Both incursions stayed within a kilometer of the border. Their main goal was to assist in spotting crews launching Qassams, and they are expected to remain there for a few days.
The incursions were also meant to signal to the Palestinians that continued rocket fire could lead to a major ground operation in Gaza. Thus far, the government has not approved any more substantial ground operations, but the IDF believes that if the Qassam strikes result in heavy casualties, this decision could change.
A senior army officer expressed satisfaction Thursday over the government's decision to allow the limited ground incursion, as well as the decision to resume assassinations of Hamas operatives. The army's basic approach remains unchanged, he said. It wants to avoid escalation or intervention in the internal Hamas-Fatah clashes. However, he added, if the rocket attacks on Sderot continue, escalation may be unavoidable, and the army must prepare for this.
Fatah-Hamas clashes continue
Meanwhile, the Fatah-Hamas clashes continued despite the latest cease-fire, killing at least three people in Gaza - one from Hamas and two from Fatah - and causing Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to cancel a planned visit to the Strip. Altogether, at least 44 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting began on Sunday.
The clashes have intensified the disagreement in Israel's security establishment over the balance of forces between Hamas and Fatah. While the IDF believes that Hamas is winning the battle against Abbas' forces - with some even saying that Fatah is finished as a significant fighting force in Gaza - other defense officials say the army's assessment ignores the facts.