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Palestinians Fire Rockets Toward Israel

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By JOSEF FEDERMAN
The Associated Press
Thursday, April 26, 2007; 7:45 PM

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets toward Israel on Thursday, the army said, and Israeli officials warned they were losing patience as rising tensions threatened a five-month cease-fire.

One rocket landed in the Mediterranean Sea and the second in an open area in southern Israel, the army said. There were no injuries.

"Israel will not be restrained forever," said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "We will defend our citizens and choose the time and place to respond."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that calm had returned to Gaza and he appealed for Israel to refrain from carrying out raids in the area.

"There is a truce between us and the Israelis, which was impinged on," he told reporters during a trip to Geneva. "We don't want ... to lay blame on who impinged on the cease-fire, but the important thing is that there is calm and there is nothing there to justify an assault on Gaza."

On Wednesday, Olmert ruled out a large-scale invasion of Gaza in response to a barrage of rockets fired by the Hamas militant group earlier in the week, giving a chance for the 5-month-old truce to regain hold.

Hamas, a member of the Palestinian coalition government, distanced itself from Thursday's attacks.

Militants linked to Abbas' Fatah movement claimed responsibility, along with the tiny Popular Resistance Committees and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

After calling for an end to the cease-fire earlier in the week, Hamas appears to be wavering. Some Hamas members favor a renewal of attacks on Israel, while others want to keep things quiet.

"There's now a debate if a truce is in the Palestinian interests," said Khalil Abu Layla, a Hamas leader in Gaza. "There's not yet a clear decision."

Olmert and Abbas, a moderate who is seen as a counterweight to Hamas, announced the Gaza truce in November, declaring an end to Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli attacks.

The agreement has largely held, though Palestinian militant groups have kept up frequent rocket attacks. The Israeli army says militants have fired 230 homemade rockets at Israel since the truce, compared with about 600 in the five months before the deal. The rockets have caused no serious injuries since the truce.

Despite the tough talk, renewed fighting would be risky for both sides.

As a member of the Palestinian unity government, Hamas has been trying to win international legitimacy and an end to economic sanctions. With the U.S. and European Union classifying Hamas as a terrorist group, a new round of fighting would do little to help the group's cause in the West.

Olmert, meanwhile, has been weakened by last summer's war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, as well as corruption allegations. Renewed fighting would also threaten the dialogue Olmert has opened with Abbas.

Olmert's troubles could come to a head Monday, when a government commission investigating the Lebanon conflict presents an interim report that could be sharply critical of his leadership.

Also Thursday, a militant wounded by the Israeli army in Gaza in October died in a Syrian hospital, according to Palestinian medical officials and a Web site associated with the gunman's Fatah movement.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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