updated 5/5/2006 3:40:19 PM ET 2006-05-05T19:40:19

An Israeli aircraft struck a training camp used by Palestinian militants on Friday, killing five members of a group that has close ties to the ruling Hamas movement.

The airstrike raised already heightened tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians and sparked a new crisis for Islamic militant group Hamas, which is under heavy international pressure to renounce violence since taking the helm of the government.

The Israelis hit a base used by the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella group responsible for numerous rocket attacks against Israel. During five years of fighting, the Israeli army has killed dozens of militants in so-called targeted killings.

The attack scattered body parts and left pools of blood in a field just yards away from the home of Moumtaz Dourghmush, the top militant commander in the resistance committees. Dourghmush was not at the scene, but a brother and three cousins were among the dead, hospital officials said.

Funding in the past from Hamas
Dourghmush is known to have close ties with Hamas’ military wing and has received training and funding from the group in the past.

Israeli security officials say he was involved in an attack last month on the main Israel-Gaza commercial crossing, which they said was planned in coordination with Hamas.

Abu Mujahid, an official with the resistance committees, said at least three missiles landed in the field as members were training. “God willing, this is not going to stop our heroic battle against the Zionists, and the blood is the fuel of our resistance and our reprisal is coming soon,” he said.

The group pledged to respond with more than 100 homemade rockets.

The army confirmed it had targeted the militants as they were training to carry out attacks. It promised to “continue to employ all means at its disposal to combat terrorists and their supporters.” Later Friday, the army fired artillery shells at suspected rocket-launching sites in northern Gaza.

Rockets fired toward Israel earlier
Since the Hamas government took office in late March, Israel has stepped up military activity in the coastal strip in response to repeated rocket fire. Earlier Friday, six rockets were fired toward Israel, the army said.

The rudimentary projectiles have not caused any serious casualties recently, but have been deadly in the past. While not directly involved in the rocket fire, Hamas has refused to condemn the attacks or take steps to stop them.

The Popular Resistance Committees also has blown up Israeli tanks and is widely believed to be behind the deadly bombing of a U.S. diplomatic convoy in October 2003.

Last month, Hamas appointed the head of the PRC, Jamal Abu Samhadana, to head a new security force. The appointment infuriated Israel and was vetoed by the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas has vowed to push forward with its plan. Last week, about 200 PRC militants conducted an exercise in the same field that was hit Friday in preparation for joining the new force.

Leaders to attempt resolution
The air strike occurred as Abbas was arriving in Gaza from his West Bank headquarters. Abbas is scheduled to meet this weekend with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas in hopes of resolving an ongoing power struggle.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Abbas, said the president condemned the attack and urged the international community to intervene. “Such Israeli escalation won’t help efforts to restore calm in the region,” he said.

Thousands of Palestinians marched throughout the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Friday to support the beleaguered Hamas government, heeding calls by the group to remain defiant in the face of bruising Western economic sanctions.

The U.S. and European Union have cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, demanding that Hamas end its calls for Israel’s destruction. Hamas has refused to give in.

The cutoff in aid, along with Israel’s suspension of tax and customs duties it collects for the Palestinians, has left the Palestinian government unable to pay 165,000 government employees for the past two months. The government is the largest employer in the Palestinian areas.

Hamas leaders called on Arabs and Muslims worldwide to boycott products from countries that are withholding aid. In Gaza City, protesters burned and trampled American, British and Israeli flags.

EU proposes fund for Palestinians
In an attempt to avert a humanitarian crisis, the EU proposed on Friday creating a fund to funnel aid to the Palestinians while avoiding contact with the Hamas government.

The proposed fund would be jointly run by the 25-nation EU, the U.S., Russia and the United Nations — the “Quartet” of sponsors of the “road map” Mideast peace plan. The plan was expected to be discussed at a Quartet meeting next week.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert turned down an offer from Abbas to resume peace talks.

Palestinian officials said Abbas phoned Olmert to congratulate the Israeli leader on his new government, which was sworn into office late Thursday. Olmert’s aides said a meeting with Abbas would be possible, but ruled out negotiations as long as Hamas refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence.

In other violence, Israeli troops shot to death a Palestinian man and wounded a second during a stone-throwing demonstration in Nablus, Palestinian medics said. The troops encountered the crowd as they conducted an arrest raid, the army said.

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