Tue, Apr 24, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Ceasefire in Gaza under threat

PROCLAMATION `The blood of our people is not cheap,' a Hamas statement said in response to Israeli military raids over the weekend, urging Palestinians to unite


A five-month ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza was threatened when Hamas called for retaliatory attacks after weekend army raids killed nine, and moderates called for cutting contacts with Israel.

Hamas, which has killed scores of Israelis in suicide bombings, sought on Sunday to rally other Palestinian militant groups in a new offensive which would shatter the Gaza truce.

"The blood of our people is not cheap," a Hamas statement said, inviting Palestinians of every ideological stripe to unite and "use all possible means of resistance and to respond to the massacres."

President Mahmoud Abbas' more moderate Fatah movement responded to the bloodshed by urging him to consider breaking off contacts with the Israeli government, despite his pledge to the US to hold regular meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Hamas and Fatah are serving in a joint Palestinian government.

"The Arab and the Palestinian leadership should evaluate the contacts with Olmert's government and reconsider these contacts and meetings," Fatah spokesman Abdel Hakim Alwad said at a news conference in Gaza. "Israel is sabotaging the efforts made by the president to maintain calm and to strengthen the ceasefire."

Nine Palestinians were killed in the weekend upsurge of Israeli-Palestinian violence, including two gunmen and a 17-year-old killed on Sunday in the West Bank. The fighting also included a Palestinian rocket attack on the southern Israeli town of Sderot that damaged a home.

Israeli officials defended the killings as part of operations that have drastically reduced the number of attacks against Israelis. Palestinian officials, however, said that the deaths jeopardized their efforts to expand the Gaza truce to the West Bank.

Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Olmert, said Israel "reaches out for peace, while at the same time we will always consistently fight against terror." Israel would continue its operations against Palestinian militants, she said, while "always doing our utmost to avoid any innocent casualties."

Troops killed the Palestinian teenager on Sunday in a village near Ramallah. Palestinian officials said he was throwing stones at an Israeli patrol when he was shot. The army said soldiers opened fire as the youth was about to throw a firebomb at a military jeep.

Earlier, an army task force raided the militant stronghold of Nablus, killing two Palestinian gunmen, including Amin Lubadi, a top bombmaker who had been wanted by Israel for more than three years. The army said an Israeli soldier was lightly wounded in the gunbattle.

In unrelated violence late on Sunday, four Palestinians were killed in Gaza, two in a gunfight among family members in northern Gaza and two others in apparently random shootings by criminals, security officials said. Also, shadowy Islamic groups sent warnings to cigarette dealers to destroy their wares and to barbers to close their shops.

Internal violence has plagued Gaza for most of the time since Israel pulled out in 2005. Some has pitted Hamas and Fatah forces against each other, while other incidents are traced to family disputes and criminal actions.

After weeks of relative quiet, the latest surge in violence began on Saturday, when five people were killed during Israeli arrest raids in the northern West Bank.

The Gaza truce has largely held, though militants have frequently fired rockets into Israel and have attacked Israeli patrols along the border fence. Israel has warned it will not tolerate continued rocket fire.

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