Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Hamas criticizes rocket fire coming from Gaza Strip

AP , GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP

The Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers on Thursday made some rare criticism of Palestinian rocket fire on Israel, saying now was the wrong time for such attacks.

The criticism comes as Hamas tries to reach a long-term ceasefire with Israel and holds reconciliation talks with its moderate rival, the Fatah Party. Hamas apparently is wary of disrupting these efforts.

The Islamic militant group has fired thousands of rockets into southern Israel over the past few years. But it said on Thursday that it has not been involved in recent attacks on the Jewish state, including two rockets fired on Wednesday.

“Regarding the report about rockets fired from Gaza, we emphasize that these rockets have no link to any of the Palestinian resistance groups and are being fired at the wrong time. We emphasize also that the security agencies are following who are behind such acts,” the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry said.

Egypt has been trying to mediate a ceasefire since Israel ended a fierce three-week military offensive against Hamas in January.

The offensive was meant to halt years of rocket fire. But some 170 rockets have been fired at Israeli towns since then, the army said, and Israel has responded with sporadic airstrikes aimed at militants. Overnight Thursday, Israeli aircraft bombed suspected weapons smuggling tunnels along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt.

The ceasefire deal is expected to include the easing of an Israeli economic blockade of Gaza as well as a prisoner swap. Hamas is seeking the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including some who carried out deadly attacks against Israeli civilians, in exchange for Israeli soldiers it has held for nearly three years.

In related news, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights updated its casualty figures from the Gaza offensive. A news release the center issued on Thursday said 1,434 Palestinians were killed during the war, including 960 civilians.

The center’s earlier tally had been nearly 1,300 dead, including some 900 civilians.

The Gaza Health Ministry puts the overall death toll at 1,324.

Thirteen Israelis also died in the fighting.

Israel insists that Hamas has inflated civilian casualties and says it has the names of more than 700 Hamas militants killed in fighting.

Early this week, Hamas also resumed reconciliation talks with Fatah.

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