Hamas on alert in Gaza after truce with Israel ends

Armed Islamist factions in Gaza went on alert on Friday after declaring an end to a six-month truce with Israel and warned the Jewish state not to attack the coastal enclave, Reuters reported.

But apart from rhetoric, calm largely prevailed, although at least three makeshift rockets, a relatively small number compared to other days in the past week, were launched at Israel, an army spokesman said.

Masked Palestinians armed with AK-47 assault rifles paraded in front of television cameras immediately after the Islamist Hamas group, which controls the coastal strip, said it was unilaterally ending the cease-fire.

Several thousand Gazans rallied in support of the Islamic Jihad group in the southern town of Khan Younis. They burned effigies of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George W. Bush and their respective flags.

Egypt, which brokered the truce in June, said it had not been asked to intercede in a bid to repair it. But Russia later on Friday urged Hamas to reinstate the agreement.

"We think it is necessary that Hamas review its earlier announced decision on ending the cease-fire," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement. Moscow viewed the move with "great concern" and warned that it could end in disastrous humanitarian consequences for Gaza's inhabitants.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hoped violence would not erupt and stressed U.S. support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to negotiate a peace deal with Israel.

"A renewed threat of violence against Israel is going to do nothing for the people of Gaza except deepen their misery, which has been imposed by Hamas," Rice told reporters at a news conference with Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa.

Civilians in Israel and Gaza alike seemed to shrug off the end of the cease-fire, which many in Gaza feel never delivered the expected easing of the Israeli blockade and Israelis viewed as never producing the sought security from Palestinian attacks.

The truce has been eroded almost daily since early November by Israeli raids against Islamist militants and showers of largely ineffective rockets fired into Israel from Gaza.

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