Hamas militants on Monday claimed responsibility for a shooting that wounded an Israeli civilian near the border with the Gaza Strip — the first serious violence after formation of the new Palestinian unity government.
The shooting dealt an embarrassing blow to Hamas political leaders, who have been trying to persuade the international community to recognize their coalition with the rival Fatah movement and lift a year-old economic boycott against the Palestinian government. It also exposed divisions within the Islamic militant group.
Israel said the attack proved the coalition was flouting international demands to renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and accept past peace accords.
“The terrorist attack today is a direct result of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s call on Saturday for resistance against Israel. His followers have turned his words into actions,” said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Israel already has said it will boycott the Palestinian government and urged its Western allies to follow suit.
Other officials plan talks with government
Western countries cut off direct financial aid to the Palestinian government last year after Hamas came to power. Israeli officials are concerned the tough international front will crumble now that the Islamic group has joined forces with the more moderate Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas.
Norway, a key donor nation to the Palestinians, already has pledged to resume economic aid, while other European countries — including France and Belgium — are planning talks with Palestinian officials. Even Israel’s closest ally, the U.S., has signaled some flexibility in dealing with the Palestinian government.
The Quartet of Middle East peacemakers — the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia — held its first discussion on how to respond to the new Palestinian government in a Monday conference call, amid signs of growing tensions within the group. Details on the talks were not immediately available.
A senior Norwegian diplomat was in Gaza on Monday on the first meeting by a high-ranking Western official with Hamas government leaders.
Speaking before the shooting, Norway’s deputy foreign minister, Raymond Johansen, said he hoped other states would follow his country’s lead and recognize the new Palestinian coalition.
Norwegian officials were not immediately available to comment on the shooting, but Israeli officials expressed displeasure with the Norwegian visit.
“It is surely a mistake to give legitimacy and recognition to an unreformed extremist (group) and it cannot serve the purposes of peace,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Shooting at Gaza transit point
The shooting occurred about 300 yards north of the Karni crossing, the main transit point for cargo going in and out of Gaza. Israel has frequently closed the crossing, which is essential to the Palestinian economy, citing security concerns.
Israel’s electric company said one of its workers was seriously wounded as he worked on a tower on Israeli territory near the crossing.
Hamas military wing claimed responsibility, calling the attack “a response to continued Zionist aggression.”
But Palestinian government officials tried to distance themselves. “We do realize that some actions undermine the duty of the government to release the people from the siege they are suffering,” said Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti, an independent. But he blamed Israel for the violence.
And Ghazi Hamad, a confidant of Haniyeh, urged an end to violence. “We are calling for mutual calm, and desire continuous calm,” he said.
The Hamas movement — which includes the group’s military wing — has been uncomfortable with concessions its political leaders made in the new coalition agreement, negotiated last month in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
The coalition replaced the Hamas-led government that took office a year ago after the group swept parliamentary elections.