Top Gaza Hamas Official: We Are Committed to Ceasefire With Israel

Mahmoud Zahar says Hamas does not want an escalation with Israel despite recent rise in violence but hints at group's rearmament.

Hamas said on Friday that they were committed to the unofficial ceasefire with Israel reached after Operation Cast Lead in 2008, despite a rise in violence in recent weeks.

Top Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar said "We are committed to self-restraint as long as there is no oppression and no aggression."

But rocket and mortar fire from Gaza have increased in the run-up to the second anniversary of Israel's offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip which began on Dec. 27, 2008 and lasted for three weeks before an unofficial ceasefire.

Zahar insists the unofficial cease-fire is not a sign of weakness. He spoke to thousands of supporters after Friday prayers in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis.

Zahar also hinted that Hamas was using it to rearm and reorganize, and criticized rivals in the Palestinian Authority for new arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank.

A spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry said Zahar's declared intentions will be tested by the reality on the ground. "Hamas has escalated the situation, it can now be de-escalated by simply stopping the rocket fire," said Yigal Palmor.

This past week, one Palestinian was killed and three were wounded in the northern Gaza Strip when they approached the border fence at a point Israel has declared off limits, Gaza medical officials said.

An Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman said troops had spotted four suspicious figures and shot at them when they did not heed orders to leave the area.

Gaza hospital sources said 13 Palestinians had been killed in cross-border hostilities with Israeli forces this month.

Also this past week, an Israeli teenage girl was lightly wounded when a Qassam rocket exploded in an open field near a kindergarten in the Ashkelon area.