Abbas says Hamas never broke its truce with Israel

By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service, and Agencies

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas vowed to continue a 16-month-old cease-fire with Israel and denied Hamas ever broke it, after meeting Saturday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"Hamas did not break the truce, although some violations have happened, due to the killing of the family (on a Gaza beach on June 9)," he told reporters.

The Palestinian leader vowed to uphold the cease-fire "in order to have people living in peace."

After Palestinians blamed Israel for an explosion that killed seven members of a family eight days ago, Hamas' military wing declared an end to the cease-fire and took responsibility for dozens of subsequent Qassam rocket attacks on western Israel over the past week.

Israel warned Hamas that it would attack the group's leaders unless the rocket fire was halted, and Palestinian sources told Haaretz that as a result, Hamas instructed its operatives Monday night to stop firing Qassams at Israel. However, Hamas later denied the Haaretz report.

On Friday afternoon, Hamas militants again distanced themselves from the cease-fire plan, while other armed groups also spurned the proposal.

"We are not interested in making any offers or proposals," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

"When the occupation stops its killings and crimes against our people then the factions may look into the issue in accordance with the interests of our people," he said.

Abu Zuhri said the cease-fire offer announced by cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad in an interview with Israel Radio represented the government, and not the militant group itself.

Justice Minister Haim Ramon reiterated on Friday that Israel would ratchet up its military reaction to Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip unless the Palestinians work to halt the attacks.

"If the residents of the Gaza Strip don't act and don't understand that the biggest threat to their security is the Qassam fire, then we will have to intensify our response and take steps that we have not yet taken," he told Israel Radio. He did not specify which steps were being considered.

However, "If it is quiet, we will answer that with quiet," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev Friday.

Two Islamic Jihad men killed in IAF strike in Gaza
Two senior Islamic Jihad militants were killed and two others were seriously wounded in an Israel Air Force strike in the Gaza Strip on Friday night, hours after Hamas stepped back from a Palestinian government offer to renew a ceasefire with Israel.

One of the militants was identified as Imad Yassin, who an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said was responsible for launching Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip into the western Negev.

Habeb Ashour, also an Islamic Jihad operative who was wounded in the strike, succumbed to his injuries a short time later.

Palestinian medics said several civilian bystanders were injured in the strike, the latest in a series of several Israel has launched against militants launching rockets in the past week.

Dozens of Palestinians rushed into a morgue, carrying one of the dead militants wrapped in a white sheet and shouting "Allahu Akbar" - "God is greatest" in Arabic.

Lieberman calls for Knesset session in Sderot
MK Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, held a faction meeting Friday in the Negev town of Sderot, which has been a frequent target of rocket fire. He said the next Knesset plenum session should also be held in Sderot.

Lieberman also called on the Israel Defense Forces on Friday to announce that it will target Hamas leaders' homes in response to Qassam rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported.

A Qassam rocket hit a moshav in the western Negev on Friday, causing some damage, Israel Radio reported. Palestinians fired six other Qassams at Israel on Thursday night and Friday. There were no injuries.

Sderot residents, meanwhile, are holding a hunger strike in the town, near Defense Minister Amir Peretz's home.

Protesters said the IDF needs to do more to prevent the Palestinians from firing rockets at Israel.

But Ramon said the IDF was already attacking Qassam-launching cells in the Gaza Strip.

"Everyone who fires Qassams today knows that he is betting his life and that at the end of the day he will pay the full price," he said.