The occupation army continued its assault into Saturday morning, striking roads and bridges used by the Palestinian resistance to launch rockets on nearby southern Israel.

No injuries were reported after more than a dozen missiles were fired.

On Friday, a Palestinian was killed after Israeli aircraft launched missiles at a car carrying him and two other resistance activists in the northern Gaza town of Bait Hanun. The men were on a mission to carry out a rocket attack.

These latest incidents in nearly a week of violence further dimmed prospects for peacemaking that had seemed more promising immediately after Israel's pullout from Gaza last month.

Road map

In comments published on Friday, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz expressed a pessimistic outlook for reaching a peace deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, deeming him too isolated and ineffective.

Palestinians said Mofaz's remarks reflected an Israeli policy that favoured occupation and did not advance the internationally backed road map peace plan, which
envisioned a future Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel.

The authors of the road map - the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union - took a strong stand against Palestinian fighters on Friday, demanding that Syria immediately shut down the offices of Islamic Jihad in Damascus and prevent use of Syrian territory for acts of terror.

Islamic Jihad has carried out a number of attacks against Israeli targets since a February ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, including a bombing in Hadera on Wednesday that killed five people.

The so-called Quartet also called for restraint and communication between Israel and the Palestinians. It said an escalation of violence should be avoided.

Missile attack

The Israeli military said it targeted the car in Bait Hanun because the three men inside were on a mission to fire rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

The Israeli assaulats have hit
roads and pipelines

No hits were reported in Sderot, but the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group affiliated with Abbas' governing Fatah party, said an Israeli drone targeted its members after the rockets were already fired.

Aljazeera correspondent Wail Dahduh reported that three Israeli missiles struck the car and set it ablaze, killing one man inside and wounding another. The third activist could have escaped, he said.
 
An al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades spokesman, using the code name Abu Ahmad, said Israel would "pay a heavy price for this crime".

The missile raid reduced the white Subaru the men were travelling in into a charred and twisted shell.

Week of bloodshed

The dead man was identified as Majid Natat, 28, of the Gaza town of Bait Lahia, frequently used for rocket launches against Israel. Another man was injured, and another escaped before the whistling missile hit, witnesses said.

A Palestinian policeman checks
the car of Majid Natat

Just after midnight on Friday, Israeli jet fighters bombarded three sites in northern Gaza. About three hours later, an additional 11 missiles were fired, also in that border area. Roads and water and sewage lines were heavily damaged, and electricity in the area was knocked out after the main transformer was hit.

The violence this week began on Monday with Israel's killing of a top Islamic Jihad resistance fighter. An Islamic Jihad revenge bombing on Wednesday killed five Israelis, and on Thursday, missiles fired at a car from Israeli aircraft killed four Islamic Jihad members and three bystanders.

Israeli helicopters fired missiles at rocket launching areas in northern Gaza late on Thursday and early on Friday, and Palestinian fighters fired a rocket, a mortar and an antitank missile from Gaza into southern Israel on Friday, the Israeli military said. No fatalities were reported.

Israel has vowed not to tolerate any attacks from Gaza after the pullout. In comments published in Israel's Yediot Ahronot daily on Friday, Mofaz was uncommonly critical of Abbas, saying the Palestinian leader could not deliver a final peace deal.

"Abu Mazin is a one-man show," Mofaz was quoted as saying. "Behind him, there is nothing, only emptiness. Governmental vacuum. In fact, there is no one to talk to," he said.

Deadlock

Mofaz said the best that could be expected was another round of interim agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I'm not at all sure that we can ever reach a peace agreement with the present Palestinian leadership," Mofaz told the paper. "We shall have to wait for the next generation."

Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz (C)

Mofaz' comments are in line with Sharon's preference for a long-term interim deal that would allow Israel to avoid dealing with explosive issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

"His remarks did not attract the attention of the Palestinians because this is not news," said Palestinian Planning Minister Ghassan Khatib.

"This Israeli government is about consolidating the occupation. This Israeli government is about the expansion of settlements. So it doesn't come as a surprise at all. This is what we expect them to say."

Without international intervention, peace talks on the basis of the road map peace plan will remain stalled, as they have been for more than two years, Khatib said.