March 12, 2009 / 5:27 PM / 10 years ago

Hamas issues rare criticism of Gaza rocket fire

GAZA, March 12 (Reuters) - Hamas Islamists in control of the Gaza Strip issued a rare condemnation on Thursday of recent rocket fire at Israel, saying their armed wing was not responsible for the action.

Rockets shot recently "are not being fired by the resistance faction", said a statement from the Interior Ministry of the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, referring to Hamas’s armed wing.

The armed wing of Hamas has fired hundreds of the homemade rockets over the past eight years, including barrages that Israel said had triggered its major offensive against Gaza in December and January.

But these latest rockets were "being fired at the wrong time", the statement said. Hamas security would find out who was responsible, it added, stopping short of promising any punitive measures.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rockets, mortar rounds or sniper fire at Israelis from within Gaza. It does not accept that renegade groups may be taking armed action without the approval or tolerance of Hamas, be it explicit or implicit. The statement marked the first time that Hamas, which rejects the right of the Jewish state to exist, has condemned such attacks since a three-week war in Gaza and Israel’s south ended on Jan. 18.

Israel said the war — in which some 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed — was launched to curtail rocket fire at its southern towns.

Rocket fire has not ceased, though none of it has been fatal. And while Israeli planes have bombed Gaza targets almost daily in retaliation, casualties have been very few.

An Israeli military spokesman said 176 rockets had been fired at Israel since its offensive ended.

Six had been launched since Wednesday, none causing any damage or injury. Responsibility for some was claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself Hezbollah Palestine.

January’s offensive destroyed 5,000 homes in Gaza and left large swathes of the coastal enclave in ruins. It ended with each side calling a separate truce that Western mediators have thus far failed to cement into a more lasting ceasefire.

Hamas wants Israel to lift a blockade of border crossings into Gaza which the 1.5 million Palestinians in the territory rely on for the supply of vital goods and services.

Israel says it allows essential food and medicine into Gaza, but will not lift restrictions on the crossings until rocket fire comes to a stop and an Israel soldier captured in 2006 is set free. (Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Mark Trevelyan)

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