Jihad threatens to continue rocket attacks, despite truce
Barak orders Gaza crossings shut after Tues. Qassams; Hamas: Committed to truce, but won't police factions.
The Islamic Jihad militant group on Wednesday threatened to continue its rocket attacks on western Israel, despite a six-day truce agreement in the Gaza Strip.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday ordered the closure of all crossings through which goods enter the Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian Qassam rocket fire on the western Negev a day earlier.
The crossings were to have opened at 8 A.M. local time to allow for imports, increased in scale under the truce, to reach the impoverished strip.
But Israeli military liaison official Peter Lerner said the crossings would stay closed until further notice. "Any reopening will be in accordance with security considerations," he said.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers, accused Israel of bad faith in closing the crossings, where restrictions were tightened a year ago after the Islamist group took over the territory.
"The closure by the occupation is a violation of the deal for calm in Gaza," Abu Zuhri said, referring to Israel.
Hamas said it remains committed to a cease-fire with Israel, but would not act as Israel's police force in confronting militants who breech the truce.
The comments by Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya came shortly after the militants fired three rockets into southern Israel on Tuesday, lightly wounding two Israelis. It was the first attack since the truce took effect last Thursday.
Hamas said it was exerting pressure on Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, to stop the rocket fire and demanded that Israel open the crossings. But al-Haya said its forces would not confront rocket launching squads on the ground.
"Even if there is a violation by some factions, Hamas emphasizes its commitment to the calm and is working to implement the calm," al-Haya said.
"But Hamas is not going to be a police securing the border of the occupation," he added. "No one will enjoy a happy moment seeing Hamas holding a rifle in the face of a resistance fighter.
Islamic Jihad's threat of renewed Qassam fire cam after it accused Israeli troops of shooting a Palestinian farmer as he worked his field in the village of Khuza, near the Gaza border.
Palestinian medical officials said the man was wounded in the leg but there was no independent confirmation that he had been shot by Israeli forces. In Tel Aviv, an Israeli military spokeswoman said she had no knowledge of any such incident.
"We will respond to every Zionist violation at the suitable time," Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Hamza said.
Israel: We will respond to rocket fire
Security consultations conducted Tuesday by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Barak indicated that Israel would respond to a Qassam rocket attack that Israel described as a breach of the cease-fire which was agreed with Hamas last week.
Israel was expected to respond to the rocket fire either by carrying out a pinpoint attack targeting Islamic Jihad, or by reducing the supply of goods entering the Gaza Strip.
Since the cease-fire went into effect, Israel has increased the amount of goods entering the Strip by about 30 percent, as it committed to do in talks with Egypt.
The rocket fire constitutes a "blatant violation of the cease-fire on the part of Palestinian groups in the Strip," Olmert said Tuesday, after being informed of the attack upon his return from Egypt, where he met with President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the cease-fire.
Olmert and Barak "agreed on methods of response," the Prime Minister's Bureau said. "We will not provide further details."
Senior security sources told Haaretz after the Qassam barrage that Israel would not be able to ignore the attack.
Barring any further deterioration in the security situation, Israel is slated to weigh how to further increase the amount of goods entering Gaza.
Gaza-area residents plan to hold a demonstration outside the Karni and Sufa crossings this morning to protest the transfer of goods into Gaza in the wake of the rocket fire.
Two women went into shock when two of the rockets hit Sderot, a few hours after Palestinian militants fired mortar shells at the Karni crossing around midnight Monday. The third rocket hit an open area in the Negev.
Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the rocket attack, which it said came in response to the death of a senior operative during an Israel Defense Forces raid in Nablus early Tuesday. A Hamas operative who worked with the wanted Jihad man was also killed in the raid. The Israel Defense Forces said troops shot both men to death, and that the Jihad man was armed with a rifle. In addition, four explosive devices and a large quantity of ammunition were found next to the gunmen.
Islamic Jihad had told Hamas before the cease-fire went into effect that it would honor the agreement, a senior political source said Tuesday. The mortar shells were fired by Hamas, although the group did not publicly take responsibility for the attack, which caused no injuries.
Israeli officials said the mortar fire appears to be a Hamas reaction to the wounding of a Palestinian civilian in northern Gaza on Monday, in a bid to show that Hamas will not stand by as Israel harms Palestinian civilians. The civilian, 68, appears to have been hurt by an errant IDF bullet.