Israeli jets bomb Gaza in response to rocket fire

Lieberman says talks with Palestinians likely to begin soon


Israeli warplanes bombed several sites in southern Gaza overnight in response to rocket fire from the Hamas-run enclave, the army said on Wednesday, as Israel's foreign minister said that Indirect Middle East peace talks should begin soon.

No one was wounded or killed in the strikes, which destroyed an abandoned building in Gaza's only airport, according to medics.

The airport was shut down and largely destroyed after the outbreak of the 2000 Palestinian uprising, or intifada, and has not been used since.

The attacks came in response to rocket fire from the impoverished enclave over the past several days, the army said in a statement. The rocket fire did not cause any casualties.

Israel has repeatedly targeted the vast network of tunnels used to smuggle food and construction materials as well as weapons from Egypt into Gaza, which has been under a punishing blockade since Hamas seized control there in June 2007.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday said that indirect Middle East peace talks should begin soon, in the first public comment by an Israeli official on a U.S. initiative.

Lieberman made the remarks during a visit to Azerbaijan, when he told President Ilham Aliyev "that in his estimation, indirect talks with the Palestinians would begin shortly," the foreign ministry said.

Lieberman's comments came a day after Palestinian officials said president Mahmoud Abbas agreed in principle to indirect talks with Israel under U.S. mediation but requested a number of guarantees.

The latest U.S. proposal for renewing peace talks suspended more than a year ago would have the two sides hold three months of indirect negotiations and have Israel make several goodwill gestures to the Palestinians.

The Palestinians would continue to require a complete freeze of Israeli settlements before any direct negotiations, but not as a precondition to indirect talks.

The Palestinians said if accepted, the talks would begin Feb. 20 with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell shuttling between the two sides.

The two sides have been at loggerheads for months as Washington has called for the renewal of negotiations that were suspended when Israel launched its three-week Gaza offensive in December 2008 that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians.