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Hamas threatens to storm Israel, Egypt borders

The ruling Hamas militant group on Tuesday threatened to storm the Egyptian and Israeli borders if the two countries don't lift their blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli soldiers return along the Israel-Gaza border Tuesday after an army operation. A Palestinian was killed earlier in clashes with Israeli troops.Tsafrir Abayov / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The ruling Hamas militant group on Tuesday threatened to storm the Egyptian and Israeli borders if the two countries don't lift their blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The threat, made by senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya, came two months after the group blew open the Egyptian border to relieve the international blockade of Gaza, allowing thousands of Palestinians to leave Gaza.

"The situation is no longer bearable," al-Haya told a news conference. "All options are open to breach this border. Not only the Egyptian border, but other borders as well," he said, in a clear reference to Israel.

Israel and Egypt sealed their borders with the coastal strip, home to 1.4 million Gazans, after Hamas violently seized control of Gaza last June. Few people or goods are allowed in and out of the area, causing economic hardship and widespread shortages of basic goods, fuel and electricity.

Israel has said it will ease the blockade only if Hamas halts rocket fire and other militant attacks on Israeli targets. Egypt refuses to recognize Hamas' rule and has said it can only open the border as part of an international agreement.

'Hamas will ... suffer'
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday that Hamas is responsible for all the misery and hardship in Gaza.

"We see Hamas as responsible for everything that is happening in Gaza. Hamas is responsible and the Hamas will, when the time comes, suffer the consequences," said Barak.

Israeli troops frequently battle Hamas militants in Gaza. More than 120 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, were killed in an Israeli offensive that ended last month. Since then, there has been a sharp drop in the fighting, though clashes have persisted.

In new violence Tuesday, a Palestinian man was killed in fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian medical officials said. They said he appeared to be a militant, though he was not immediately identified.

The Israeli army said gunmen opened fire at troops in Gaza and the soldiers fired back, hitting some of the militants. Hamas confirmed that militants fired nine mortars at Israeli forces.

While battling Hamas, Israel has been trying to reach a peace agreement with the rival Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate who rules from the West Bank.

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have set a December 2008 target for wrapping up a peace agreement. But at a meeting Monday, their first in nearly two months, they exchanged accusations that each was not living up to their obligations under a U.S.-backed peace plan.

A main Palestinian complaint is that Israel is expanding its West Bank settlements. On Tuesday, Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon was quoted as saying a Jewish settlement in the northern West Bank was built on private Palestinian land in violation of an Israeli Supreme Court ruling. The Haaretz daily said Ramon made the comment about the settlement of Ofra in February. The settlement was built in 1975. Palestinians consider all West Bank Israeli settlements to be illegal.

Donors summit set for May 2
Meanwhile, a U.N. official said a May 2 London gathering of donors to the Palestinian Authority will be aimed at finding ways to revive the conflict-battered Palestinian economy over the long term. Last December, the donors pledged aid of $7.4 billion over three years.

Also Tuesday, Israel's Foreign Ministry said it won't grant a visa to a U.N. official investigating Israeli conduct toward the Palestinians after he compared Israelis to Nazis.

Richard Falk is to take up his post with the U.N. Human Rights Council later this year. But the Foreign Ministry said it wouldn't give Falk a visa to enter Israel, Gaza or the West Bank before the council meets in September.

Israel will also express its displeasure with the council's choice of Falk as investigator. "If he already believes Israel is like the Nazis, how fair will he be?" said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel.

Israel has objected for years to what it perceives as anti-Israel bias by many U.N. bodies.