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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israeli Airstrikes in Gaza Hit Hamas

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli warplanes sent missiles slamming into a car carrying Hamas militants and weapons early Sunday, killing three, then demolished militants' arms factories, the Israeli army said, in widening reprisals against Gaza rocket squads.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened tougher action if the intensified rocket fire on the border communities did not cease.

The sixth straight day of airstrikes came as an uneasy truce between warring Palestinian factions set in. Masked Hamas and Fatah gunmen who had controlled the streets and taken over apartment buildings in the previous week scaled back their presence sharply, and residents who had holed up at home ventured out to stock up on supplies at busy shops.

Children went back to school in time for final exams, and adults returned to work.

Four previous truces last week quickly collapsed, but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said he expected the cease-fire deal reached Saturday to stick because of Israel's military action.

"No one would condone fighting one another while the Israelis are shelling Gaza," he said.

More than 50 Palestinians have been killed in fighting that broke out after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, stationed thousands of loyalist security forces on the streets of Gaza City without consulting Hamas, Fatah's partner in the Palestinian governing alliance.

The infighting has threatened the survival of the fragile national unity government, formed in March to end an earlier round of factional bloodshed.

Israel added another layer of violence by sending warplanes after Hamas rocket squads whose attacks on Israeli border towns have sown panic and sent thousands fleeing to safer ground.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday denounced the Palestinian rocket salvos and the factional fighting, and appealed for Israel to exercise restraint in the face of provocation.

"The clashes among Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip and the rocket attacks against inhabitants of the nearby Israeli cities, which prompted armed intervention, are provoking a bloody deterioration of the situation," Benedict told pilgrims in St. Peter's Square. "In the name of God, I beg that an end be put to this tragic violence."

Israel has carried out 21 airstrikes in Gaza since Tuesday, the Israeli army said, and at their weekly meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli Cabinet ministers discussed how to respond to the rocket barrages.

"If the diplomatic and military efforts we have taken do not bring calm, we will have to escalate our response," Olmert said at the start of the session.

After Sunday's Cabinet meeting, hawkish Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman indicated that he would pull his small Yisrael Beitenu party out of the government if it did not take tough action against Hamas, including assassinating its leaders and ordering the reoccupation of a corridor along the Gaza-Egypt border to stop smuggling of arms to militants.

"Either Hamas is going to be dismantled, or the government is going to be dismantled," Lieberman said in a statement. "This is not an ultimatum, but these are the options."

Olmert would still have a majority in the parliament without Yisrael Beitenu's 11 seats, but a split would leave his governing coalition on shakier ground.

One of the options expected to be floated Sunday was the deployment of an international force along Gaza's border with Egypt to curb the weapons-smuggling and possibly to disarm militants, a Cabinet minister said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the idea is not yet a formal proposal.