Hamas formally announced the end of its unwritten, often-breached truce with Israel on Friday as Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets into southern Israel.
The Israeli military said two rockets were fired on Friday morning and two more after sunset. It said troops guarding Israeli farmers in fields adjoining Gaza also came under sniper fire from across the border. No injuries were reported in any of the incidents.
In a statement posted on its Web site, the Islamic militant group Hamas said Israel had breached agreements by imposing a painful economic blockade on Gaza, staging military strikes into the densely populated coastal strip and continuing to hunt down Hamas operatives in the West Bank.
“Since the enemy did not abide with the conditions ... We hold the enemy fully responsible for ending the truce and we confirm that the Palestinian resistance factions headed by Hamas will act,” the statement said.
There was no immediate Israeli comment about Hamas’ announcement that it would not extend the ceasefire past its end on Friday. Israel said previously that the six-month-old truce, brokered by Egypt, didn’t have an official expiration date and that the government was interested in prolonging “understandings” with Hamas.
Israeli forces killed one Palestinian and wounded three others in an air raid on the Gaza Strip yesterday morning, a day after the end of a shaky six-month truce, medical sources and witnesses said.
The attack took place near the northern town of Jabalya when an Israeli warplane fired three missiles at a group of militants preparing to launch rockets on Israel, witnesses said.
Medics said the dead man was 22-year-old Ali Hijazi. He and two of the wounded, one seriously, were said to be members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
A civilian was also wounded.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was critical of Hamas’ move.
“I sincerely hope that there will not be a resumption of the violence because that is not going to help the people of Gaza, it is not going to help the Palestinians, it is not going to help the Palestinian cause,” she said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated his appeal to extend the truce and immediately halt rocket attacks against Israel and all acts of violence, UN deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said at UN headquarters in New York.
“A major escalation of violence would have grave consequences for the protection of civilians in Israel and Gaza, the welfare of the Gazan civilian population and the sustainability of political efforts,” Okabe said.
Hamas, which violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in June last year, is listed as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US and much of the international community, and Israel does not officially have direct contacts with it.
Though violence and casualties dropped significantly under the ceasefire agreement, the truce has increasingly unraveled since early last month when Israeli soldiers entered Gaza to destroy a tunnel that the army said could have been used in a cross-border raid. In response, Palestinian militants resumed firing rockets at Israel.
On Thursday, Gaza militants fired 11 rockets and six mortar shells toward Israel and Israel staged at least two airstrikes against rocket squads. The day before, at least 20 rockets were fired at Israel, wounding two people and causing property damage, the army and police said.