Hamas militants fired a barrage of rockets and mortar shells toward Israel on Tuesday and said they considered a five-month truce with Israel to have come to an end.
Also in Gaza, an angry clan stormed the parliament building, carrying the body of a slain family member, to demand the killers be brought to justice.
Tuesday’s rocket attack, which came on Israel’s 59th Independence Day, did not cause any damage or injury. However, it marked the first time Hamas openly acknowledged firing shells toward Israel since agreeing to a cease-fire along the Gaza-Israel border in November.
A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing said the group considered the truce to have ended.
“The cease-fire has been over for a long time, and Israel is responsible for that,” the spokesman, Abu Obeida, told the Voice of Palestine radio station.
Now the Muslim militant group appears to be spoiling for a fight, especially in the absence of any progress toward the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
Shalit was captured by Hamas-allied militants in Gaza last June.
“This is a message to the Zionist enemy that our strikes will continue,” Abu Obeida said of the rocket fire. “We are ready to kidnap more and more, and kill more and more of your soldiers.”
Shalit’s kidnappers demand the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including veterans and those involved in killing or wounding Israelis.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that freeing soldiers is important to the government, but that it would not repeat “mistakes made in the past” by releasing violent prisoners who then carried out more attacks against Israelis. But Olmert said there would be “no escape in the end from making a difficult decision” on trading prisoners for the captured Israeli troops.
New peace push?
In other developments Tuesday, Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres offered a positive view of the Arab peace initiative, but said it was still too early to judge it.
The plan offers Israel peace with the Arab world, in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the territories it captured in the 1967 Mideast War. The plan also calls for a solution for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, in all several million people.
Asked about the plan, Peres told The Associated Press: “There is music but not yet an orchestra, and you have to look who’s going to play and who’s going to conduct, but we like the music.”
Hamas militants claimed Tuesday they launched 40 rockets and 70 mortar shells. However, the Israeli military said it could only confirm six rockets and eight mortars. Two of the rockets fell in Israel, north of the Gaza Strip, the army said.
The rockets fell after nine Palestinians were killed in fighting with Israel over the weekend. Most of the dead were militants, but Palestinians said at least two civilians, including a 17-year-old girl, were killed.
The upswing in violence drew calls from Palestinian moderates for Abbas to cut off contacts with Olmert. Hamas, the senior partner in a coalition with Fatah, called for renewed attacks against Israelis.
Also in Gaza, around 200 men from the Abu Sharkh tribe, many armed with rifles and M16s, pushed their way into the parliament building, firing in the air, and carrying the body of 38-year-old Hassan Abu Sharkh on a stretcher.
The protesters briefly left Abu Sharkh’s body in the plenum, pushing aside guards, chanting that the killers be bought to justice.
Abu Sharkh was shot in the head on Sunday, and his body dumped in a nearby park. Two other Palestinians were killed in internal fighting on the same day.
Such slayings have become a serious problem in Gaza, and killers are rarely bought to justice.
Smugglers and clansmen settle differences with guns, and bands of self-styled vigilantes have killed suspected pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, owners of music shops, internet cafes, pool halls — activities which could divert people from worship — and women suspected of sexual misconduct. Bystanders are often wounded or killed.
On Monday, a 12-year-old boy was shot dead in northern Gaza by a stray bullet fired by gunmen, while in a separate incident a 5-year-old girl suffered serious head wounds when she was hit by another stray bullet.