Hamas Fires Rockets at Israel After Calling Off Truce


Published: June 10, 2006

JERUSALEM, June 10 — The ruling Hamas group fired a barrage of homemade rockets at Israel on Saturday, hours after calling off a truce with Israel in anger over an artillery attack that killed seven civilians at a beachside picnic in the Gaza Strip, according to Associated Press reports.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of Al Qaeda, spoke on a videotape shown by Al Jazeera, urging Palestinians to reject any compromise with Israel.

The end of the truce raised the prospect of a new wave of bloodshed and the resumption of suicide attacks that Hamas had suspended since reaching the cease-fire in February 2005.

The Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for at least 15 of the rockets fired after midnight, as well as a barrage of mortar bombs. The attacks caused no casualties, and the Israeli army said nearly all of them appeared to land inside Gaza.

"The earthquake in the Zionist towns will start again and the aggressors will have no choice but to prepare their coffins or their luggage," the Hamas militants said in a leaflet. "The resistance groups ... will choose the proper place and time for the tough, strong and unique response."

Hamas had officially been abiding by an intermittent 16-month-old cease-fire, but Friday's killing of five members of a family and two women at a beach picnic led to the shift announced in a leaflet and confirmed by the Palestinian government spokesman.

Israeli military officials expressed regret for any "strike on innocents," saying that it was accidental and that the shells were aimed at a target 400 yards away, which had been the launching ground for dozens of crude rockets fired by Palestinians at southern Israeli towns. The officials ordered a halt to shelling in the area and offered help to some 30 other Palestinians who had been wounded.

The Palestinian reaction was one of fury, with the deaths putting the ruling Hamas faction in an awkward political position, apparently unable either to protect ordinary Palestinians or pay them, given the halt in financing to the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority by Israel and the West.

"The Israeli massacres represent a direct opening battle, and that means the earthquake in the Zionist cities will resume," the Hamas statement said. "We will respond at the appropriate place and time."

Ghazi Hamad, the spokesman of the Hamas government, confirmed the statement. "They killed innocent civilians who were enjoying their time on the beach and have nothing to do with military affairs," he said in a telephone interview. "So I believe that we the Palestinians, including Hamas, have the right to respond and defend ourselves."

The timing and extent of the attacks remained unclear, but the reaction is likely to be an attack on Israeli civilians, presumably through suicide bombings. Asked if the declaration meant a renewal of open warfare with Israel, Mr. Hamad said, "What kind of war can we declare against Israel and its army?"

[On Saturday morning, Hamas said it had fired rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip, Reuters reported. There were no immediate reports in Israel that any of the rockets had landed in Israeli territory.]

On Friday, Israel fired missiles at two cars belonging to Palestinians who it said had fired rockets at Israel, killing another three Palestinians, two brothers and a cousin who were members of the Popular Resistance Committees, and wounding another three, who were members of Islamic Jihad, in the second car.

Ali Ghaliya; his wife, Raisa; and three children, ages 1, 3 and 10; were having a picnic on the northern Gazan beach. They were all killed in the shelling. Israel has killed 14 Palestinians, half of them militants, in Gaza in the last 24 hours.

At least five Qassam rockets were fired into Israel by Palestinians on Friday, but no Israelis were hurt. Some 30 Qassams were fired this week, the Israeli Army said. Some were said to be in response to the Israeli Air Force bombing of a Palestinian training camp around midnight on Thursday that killed a senior Palestinian commander and Hamas Interior Ministry official, Jamal Abu Samhadana, and three others.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned Israel for what he called "a bloody massacre." The Israeli commander for the south, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said in a telephone interview that his troops had fired four shells toward an area 400 yards inland from the beach "often used to shoot Qassam rockets toward Ashkelon," in the early morning, and another six shells in the late afternoon. Three of the six fell north of the target, he said, and "the accident was south of the target, so we're trying to discover whether one of our shells fell wrong or whether a dud shell," fired previously, exploded.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians attended the funerals of Mr. Samhadana and his colleagues on Friday in Rafah. They called for revenge against Israel in the continuing violence, which is taking place against the backdrop of a political confrontation between the militant Hamas, which runs the Palestinian Authority, and Mr. Abbas of Fatah, who is expected on Saturday to announce a July 31 referendum on a political program and two-state solution with Israel that Hamas opposes. Hamas made another appeal on Friday to Mr. Abbas to cancel the referendum, as a senior figure of Al Qaeda called on Palestinians to vote against Mr. Abbas in any such referendum.

The Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya of Hamas, asked Mr. Abbas to back down for the sake of Palestinian unity and continue dialogue instead on the basis of a document produced by prisoners calling for a national-unity government.

The Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, urged Palestinians to reject a platform that implicitly recognized Israel alongside a Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders. "I call on them to refuse any Palestinian referendum because Palestine belongs to the Muslim world," Mr. Zawahiri said in the videotape broadcast Friday on Al Jazeera.

Mr. Zawahiri also criticized the 2002 Arab proposal that offered Israel peace if it pulled back to pre-1967 borders, which Israel has rejected. He called it the "Arab capitulation initiative." And he lambasted Arab governments for not defying the United States to support Hamas and the Palestinians in the face of an economic siege, imposed on Hamas because it would not recognize Israel, reject violence and accept previous agreements. "They did not have the courage to even meet the Palestinians' needs for one month," said Mr. Zawahiri, who insisted that "the orders" came from the United States "to their agents to starve the Palestinians and to isolate them."

Mr. Haniya told Mr. Abbas in a letter: "The idea of the referendum now on the table carries many dangers. I'm afraid it will cause a historic rift that will hurt the Palestinian cause for decades to come." He repeated Hamas's assertion that the president had no authority to call a referendum. He said the killing of Mr. Samhadana, 43, who ran the Popular Resistance Committees and had been appointed security chief by Hamas, had created a dangerous atmosphere that required Palestinian unity. But Mr. Abbas seemed determined to set a date for the vote, though his aides said that discussions with Hamas would continue, and that could mean that no vote would take place.

Mr. Abbas is eager to reassert the primacy of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he leads, and to commit Hamas to a two-state solution, which implicitly recognizes Israel, in the hope that the West will resume aid to the Palestinians.

In his video, Mr. Zawahiri, an Egyptian, praised Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, as "a hero of Islam," but made no reference to his killing Wednesday by American forces, indicating that the tape was made before his death.