Israel defiant as truce ends

“The quiet will finish at the end of this year… The quiet is meaningless because Israel continues to kill,” Mushir al-Masri told the Agence France Presse newsagency at the funerals.

Militant groups agreed to a ceasefire last March following a meeting in Cairo and they had expected to review the situation ahead of 2006.

The threat by Hamas came amid claims that Israel had “started a war” by killing a local leader of its military wing along with an Al-Aqsa commander.

Their funerals in Gaza drew a crowd of more than 15,000 people who shouted “revenge, revenge” and “answer in Tel Aviv”, all punctuated by a burst of gunfire.

Hundreds of masked militants paraded mortar rounds, Kalashnikovs and grenades in the streets, as the wives and children of the victims sobbed.

Qaraa is the first Hamas member to be killed since a flareup which kicked off last Wednesday following an Islamic Jihad suicide bombing in northern Israel that killed five Israelis.

Until Tuesday’s airstrike, Hamas had remained largely silent.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, however, promptly renounced the informal truce, in place since the beginning of the year. “To hell with the truce,” it said, announcing a “mobilisation” of its supporters following the air strike.

Rockets fired

Palestinian gunmen shot dead an Israeli soldier near the West Bank town of Jenin in a shooting claimed by Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Later, an Al-Aqsa gunman was shot dead during a gunbattle with Israeli troops in the nearby town of Qabatiya, Palestinian medics told AFP. Rafat Assus, 22, was critically wounded and died in hospital.

An Israeli was slightly wounded when two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip onto the town of Netiv ha-Asara, on Israel’s northern border with Gaza, the army said.

Israel has warned that it will only stop meting out “justice” when the Palestinians took on militants, a senior aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the Haaretz daily.

“When there will be a let-up in terrorist attacks, when the Palestinian
Authority decides finally to take action against these groups to disarm them… then we will not have to bring justice to them,” Ranaan Gissin said.

Israeli sources said the two men killed Tuesday were responsible for a string of attacks which killed 20 Israelis.

The top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily applauded the strike as “one of the more significant assassination operations in recent years”.

Washington defended Israel’s right to self-defence and called on the
Palestinians to act against militants.

“We urge the Palestinian Authority to take action,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, saying the United States “understands Israel’s right and need to defend itself”.

Fourteen Palestinians and six Israelis have been killed in Middle East
violence since the October 26 suicide bombing.

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