Gaza militants up rocket attacks as truce to expire

Israel Materials 17 December 2008 19:32 (UTC +04:00)

Palestinian militant factions in the Gaza Strip said Wednesday they were unlikely to extend an Egyptian- brokered six-month truce with Israel which expires on Friday, dpa reported.

Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the current, outgoing Israeli government meanwhile welcomed UN Security Council resolution 1850, adopted Monday in New York, which called the Israeli- Palestinian negotiations relaunched in Annapolis, Maryland one year ago "irreversible."

The resolution also called for negotiations on all of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "without exception" and, initiated by the US and Russia, was a bid by the Annapolis process' key sponsors to safeguard progress made thus far, ahead of Israeli elections on February 10.

Abbas meanwhile urged all factions in Gaza to keep the truce with Israel, while Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said earlier that his country would not shrink from launching a military offensive in Gaza if necessary, but was also not "running toward" one.

"Calm in Gaza will be met with calm," he reiterated to a conference in northern Israel late Tuesday.

Palestinian fighters in the strip fired 14 self-made rockets into southern Israel on Wednesday, in addition to one mortar shell, a military spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said, adding they brought the total number launched since Tuesday to 24.

Abu Obaida, a spokesman for the al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the radical Islamic Hamas movement ruling Gaza, said his movement was not "rushing" toward extending the truce.

The al-Qassam Brigades "regards the calm (truce), in its current form, as unsuitable for extension," he told reporters in Gaza.

Both Israel and Hamas have been using the Hebrew and Arabic terms for "calm" to describe the truce, underscoring that it is an informal and indirect agreement between two parties which do not recognize each other.

Other armed factions active in Gaza also voiced negative assessments about the truce.

Naffez Azzam, of the Islamic Jihad, said it had "served the Israeli occupation rather than the Palestinian people" and criticized the undetermined stance of his faction.

The Islamic Jihad claimed credit for firing most of Wednesday's rockets, saying they were revenge for the killing of one of their militants during an Israeli arrest raid in the West Bank city of Jenin earlier this week. The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) too claimed responsibility for some of the rockets.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said "Friday will be the final end to the calm, which already collapsed in the middle because of Israel which increased its attacks and tightened its siege on the Palestinian people," a Gaza leader, Kayed al-Ghoul said.

The truce, which had largely held for five months, began disintegrating in early November, when five Hamas militants were killed in a heavy clash near the Gaza border with Israeli soldiers, who had uncovered a tunnel dug by militants and who Israel had said had planned to infiltrate into its territory.

Although sporadic, one-off rockets also landed in Israel before that November 4 clash, militants have stepped up their rocket fire since then. Israel has responded by renewing its near-total blockade of the strip, shutting its border crossings to all but periodic shipments of basic humanitarian aid.

A complete end to rocket attacks and a gradual easing of the Israeli blockade had been conditions of the truce.

"We demand to keep the truce in Gaza and we reject ending it because the one who will suffer if it ends will be the Palestinian people," Abbas told a news conference with visiting Austrian President Heinz Fischer in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Abbas, who is locked in a bitter power struggle with Hamas and lost control over the Gaza Strip to the Islamic group in June 2007, reiterated he planned to call presidential and legislative elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to solve the deadlock, but specified no date. He also called on Hamas, however, to return to reconciliation talks sponsored by Egypt.

Abbas, who is due to meet US President George W Bush on Friday in the White House "to say goodbye to him and to thank him for the efforts he has exerted for us so far," said the Annapolis process had not failed.

"We want to continue the efforts with the new (US) administration," he said, urging president-elect Barack Obama "to give priority to peace in the Middle East and not to delay any efforts toward that goal."

His office had earlier called the UN resolution "encouraging" because it kept up the "hope" for peace, while a statement from Livni's office expressed contentment the decision backed Israel's condition that any peace deal would be implemented only after the Palestinians reign in militants, notably Hamas.

Hamas, for its part, dismissed the resolution as "meaningless" because it supported a "fake" peace process.

Турция, Анкара, 17 декабря /корр. Trend А.Алескеров/. По вопросу принятия Турции в ЕС до конца текущего года ожидается рассмотрение ещё двух глав переговоров. Ожидается, что разделы, касающиеся свободного перемещения капитала, а также информационного общества и СМИ, будут открыты на межпарламентской конференции в Брюсселе, где Турцию представит министр иностранных дел Али Бабаджан. Как сообщила газета "Стар", таким образом, число открытых разделов, по которым Анкара ведутся переговоры с ЕС составит 10 из имеющихся 35.

Министр иностранных дел Турции Али Бабаджан накануне в Анкаре дал официальный обед на который были приглашены послы стран-членов ЕС. Выступая на мероприятии Бабаджан заявил, что ни у кого не должно быть сомнений в решительности правительства касательно намерений, связанных со вступлением Турции в Евросоюз. Он подчеркнул, что полноправное членство Турции в ЕС является стратегической целью и государственной политикой Турции. По словам министра, членство в ЕС "формирует рамки необходимого процесса реформ, которые проводятся в стране".