IAF destroys house during Gaza strike AP
A Palestinian man checks the damage of an abandoned house that was destroyed during an Israeli air strike overnight in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010. Photo by AP
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The Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday condemned Israel's air strikes on the Gaza Strip this week, calling them an attempt to deflect attention from the failed peace process.

"We condemn these air strikes. They contribute nothing but add to the tension and inflame negative feelings towards Israel," foreign ministry spokesperson Hussam Zaki said in a press statement.

Five gunmen were killed Saturday when the Israel Air Force attacked a militant cell in the Gaza Strip. Since then, at least 14 mortar shells and rockets were fired at southern Israel from the Hamas-controlled strip; an Israeli girl was lightly wounded in one of those attacks, when a rocket exploded near an Ashkelon-area kindergarten on Tuesday.

Four more Palestinians were wounded Monday and Tuesday as the IAF continued its offensive.

"The air strikes are an attempt to divert attention from the failure of peace process, which is a result of Israel's intransigent positions," Zaki said.

Earlier this month, the United States along with Middle East diplomats scrambled to salvage the peace process. Direct talks between Israel and Palestine, launched in September, collapsed in less than a month after Israel refused to renew a freeze on settlement building in the West Bank.

"Israel must not be allowed to escalate aggression against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip," Zaki added.

The United Nations on Wednesday sharply condemned the rise in cross-border attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza; Israel has already lodged an official complaint with the international body over the increased rocket strikes.

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said rocket strikes from Gaza at Israel, which had escalated in recent days, were "in clear violation of international humanitarian law" and endangered civilians.

The UN envoy noted the Israeli air strikes, saying Israel had "a right to self-defense consistent with international humanitarian law". He urged maximum restraint and "every precaution to ensure Israeli forces do not endanger civilians in Gaza".

The criticism over the rocket strikes drew a strong response from Hamas, the militant Islamist group which controls the enclave under Israeli blockade, which said Serry's remarks reflected "double standards".

Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nono said the United Nations
should "correct the position expressed by Serry" who was justifying "the aggressive actions of the Israeli occupation".

"The United Nations is required to ... respect the rights of the Palestinian people as stated in international law and in the relevant United Nations resolutions, and not use a policy of double standards," he said.

Meanwhile, Israel Defense Forces officials have said that Israel will deploy tanks equipped with a miniature missile-defense system along the Gaza Strip border in the coming weeks now that Palestinian militants have begun using a sophisticated, tank-piercing missile.

IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi disclosed on Tuesday that militants from the Palestinian coastal strip had for the first time fired a Kornet missile earlier this month and that it penetrated an Israeli tank.

Gaza's Hamas rulers have not confirmed or denied possessing the missiles.
Israeli officials say the Iranian-backed Gaza militants who once relied on crude, locally made projectiles, have steadily acquired more powerful and accurate missiles produced overseas.

The IDF officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss such matters publicly, alleged the laser-guided Kornet had come from Iran.

They provided no proof and it was not clear how the missiles were delivered. Hamas, which has close ties with Iran, controls a network of smuggling tunnels along Gaza's southern border with Egypt.