TELEGRAPH…Hamas gunmen opened fire on Israeli troops who crossed into Gaza on Friday, killing two as tensions escalated following the most violent week since Israel’s invasion of the coast enclave 14 months ago.
The clashes came as Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, signalled for the first time since receiving a dressing down from US President Barack Obama on Tuesday that he would reject American demands to halt Jewish construction in East Jerusalem.
The Israeli army said two soldiers were killed and two were wounded in an exchange of fire near the Palestinian town of Khan Younis, in the south of the Gaza Strip. There were unconfirmed reports that two Hamas fighters were also killed.
After months of relative tranquillity following the end of Israel’s military offensive in January last year, there has been an upsurge in rocket attacks from Gaza over recent days, one of which killed a Thai immigrant working in a greenhouse north of the enclave last week.
In a development that will disturb Israel, Hamas admitted its forces were involved in yesterday’s clash. Responsibility for the rocket attacks of the past week has been claimed by Islamist groups largely opposed to Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.
Shortly before Mr Netanyahu convened a secret session of his inner cabinet, a statement was released from the prime minister’s office indicating that Israel would give no ground on the settlement issue, which has caused the greatest chasm in its relations with the United States for many years.
“The prime minister’s position is that there is no change in Israel’s policy on Jerusalem that has been pursued by all governments of Israel for the past 42 years,” the statement read.
Enraged by an Israeli decision to build 1,600 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War but seen by Palestinians as their future capital, Mr Obama called on Mr Netanyahu to reverse the move and make a series of confidence building gestures to restart peace talks.
While defying Mr Obama’s key demand, a spokesman for the prime minister said that he was prepared to take “additional steps to advance peace talks”.
But a powerful pro-settlement lobby group within the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, urged Mr Netanyahu not to go even that far.