Hamas has rejected the possibility of renewing a truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip when the current agreement expires on Friday, and warned it will respond to any Israeli attack.
AFP - The Islamist Hamas movement said the truce in and around Gaza will end on Friday, ruling out any extension and insisting that it will respond to any Israeli attack.
"The truce will end tomorrow," said Fawzi Barhum, a spokesman for the Hamas rulers of the besieged Gaza Strip where violence already surged in recent days.
"There is no possibility of renewing the truce," he told AFP on Thursday after a meeting with Islamic Jihad and other factions in Gaza.
"We at Hamas have the right to respond to any Zionist aggression against the Palestinian people. It is a national duty," he said, while adding that the Islamist movement would act "according to the situation on the ground."
Israel, which had hoped for an extension of the truce, had no immediate reaction to the Hamas statement.
However, Defence Minister Ehud Barak indicated in earlier remarks that Israel would respond only if attacked.
"When the situation requires us to, we will act," he said.
Barak raised the spectre of a military intervention, but made it clear he saw no urgency.
"We are not afraid of launching a large-scale military operation in Gaza but there is no need to rush into it," he told journalists.
Israeli forces conducted five air strikes and killed one Palestinian while Gaza militants fired a barrage of rockets on Wednesday and a further volley at dawn on Thursday.
On Thursday, Israeli aircraft knocked out two rocket launchers, including one that was ready to fire, the armed forces said.
Israel and Hamas have accused each other of violating the truce that was negotiated through Egyptian intermediaries as the Jewish state regards the Islamists as a terrorist outfit.
The Israeli government blames Hamas for not stopping attacks often carried out by smaller Palestinian factions, while the Islamists claim Israel broke the truce by failing to lift its blockade of the impoverished territory.
Israel responded to a flare-up of violence that erupted in early November by tightening sanctions and closing its crossing points with Gaza, halting deliveries of humanitarian aid and other basic supplies.
Shortages caused by the closures have forced the United Nations to suspend its distribution of food assistance to about half of Gaza's 1.5 million population, the UN Works and Relief Agency said on Thursday.
"Due to the ongoing crisis with irregular border access and the lack of wheat flour in Gaza, UNRWA has exhausted all stocks of flour in its warehouses," the agency said in a statement.
"Wheat supplies scheduled to arrive in Gaza the 9-10 December were unable to enter due to rocket fire, hence the mills have run out of flour and UNRWA has been forced to suspend food distribution," it said.
Rockets have rained down on southern Israel on an almost daily basis since November 4, and Israeli forces have killed 18 Palestinians in Gaza, almost all of them militants, in that period.
On Wednesday two people sustained shrapnel wounds and several cars were damaged when one of the rockets exploded in the parking lot of a large supermarket in Sderot, an city just a few kilometers (miles) from Gaza.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas plans to discuss the situation in Gaza at a meeting with US President George W. Bush in Washington on Friday.
Abbas has called for a continuation of the truce, but his authority has been limited to the occupied West Bank since Hamas ousted his forces and seized control of the coastal enclave in June 2007.
The situation in Gaza, and the divisions between Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party have further hobbled slow-moving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that were revived under US auspices in November 2007 after a seven-year hiatus.
Date created : 2008-12-18