Earlier in the day hospital officials said at least seven Palestinians had been wounded overnight, and in areas near Gaza's southern border with Egypt, Israeli troops entered several homes and briefly held seven Palestinians for questioning.

Threats

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"Civil war in Gaza is not to anyone's advantage - neither to Israel's nor to the Palestinians"

Ranreshef, Tel Aviv, Israel

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One of the Palestinians, Samer Qdaih, 17, said the soldiers threatened to return to flatten the neighbourhood if rocket fire against Israeli towns continued.

In the West Bank, a large numbers of Israeli soldiers stormed the headquarters of Hamas' establishments in Jericho, Tubas and Jenin.

Doors were smashed and computers and financial and administrative files confiscated.

Israel said on Tuesday that it could target Ismail Haniya, the Hamas Palestinian prime minister, if the group refused to stop rocket fire.

Hamas did not claim responsibility for the few rockets that fell on southern Israel on Wednesday, and no injuries were reported.

Talks

Abbas and Haniya met for the first time on Wednesday since fierce Hamas-Fatah fighting broke out two weeks ago killing more than 50 people.

Ahmed Yousef, a Haniya aide, said a ceasefire with Israel would have to be comprehensive, and include the West Bank in addition to Gaza.

"If it is going to be for Gaza only, then no one will be able to convince the Palestinian resistance factions to commit to that," he said.

Hamas officials had expressed fears that Israel could target Haniya on his way to or from the meeting.

"We cannot talk about calm while the Israeli aggression is continuing"

Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas official

Asked if Haniya was on Israel's hit-list, Ephraim Sneh, the Israeli deputy defence minister, said on Tuesday: "I'll put it like this, there is no one who is in the circle of commanders and leaders in Hamas who is immune from a strike."

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said in response in Gaza: "Any harm to Prime Minister Haniya or any Hamas leader would mean a change in the rules of the game and the occupation [Israel] must be ready to pay an unprecedented price."

Israeli air strikes over the week have killed at least 34 Palestinians, medical officials said in Gaza.

Abu Zuhri said: "We cannot talk about calm while the Israeli aggression is continuing. When Israel stops all forms of aggression against our people, then Palestinian factions could consider this issue."

US funds

The US administration may ask congress for permission to use $27m in unspent funds to strengthen Abbas's security forces, a US official says.

    

In April, congress gave the administration of George Bush, the US president, permission to spend nearly $60m for "non-lethal" aid chiefly to train and equip the Palestinian Presidential Guard, which reports to Abbas.

   

The money aims to bolster Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas, which was democratically elected to lead the Palestinian government. Fatah and Hamas are now members of a fragile national unity government.