GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas’s armed wing declared an end to a five-month-old Gaza ceasefire on Tuesday by firing rockets into Israel, but the Palestinian government led by the Islamist group called for the truce to be restored.
Hamas’s armed wing said it fired the rockets from the Gaza Strip in response to the killing of nine Palestinians over the weekend by Israeli forces.
Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz warned the Palestinian unity government, formed last month by Hamas Islamists and President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah faction, against allowing additional rocket attacks.
The rockets caused minor damage but no injuries as the Jewish state celebrated its Independence Day.
“The violation of the truce is an exceptional event that will not last,” Abbas said at a news conference in Rome. “I take this opportunity to appeal to Israel to show the necessary self-control so that this will not happen again.”
Egyptian security officials in Gaza planned to meet on Wednesday with Hamas’s armed wing and other militant groups to try to head off any further escalation.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was also expected to meet his security advisers to consider how to respond.
Peretz was quoted by Haaretz newspaper as saying the “Palestinian unity government will not provide any (Palestinian official) with immunity” if the rocket fire continues.
“There is no calm between us and the (Israeli) occupation. The occupation ended the calm,” Abu Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said after the group resumed rocket fire for the first time since the November truce took hold.
The Hamas-led Palestinian government later called for the ceasefire to remain in place.
“The government is interested to keep the ceasefire and the calm and we are trying, through consultation and discussion with the Palestinian factions, to take a position in order to protect our people,” government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said.
Observers say there has been a debate within the Hamas leadership over whether the group has to take a harder line towards Israel, but the Islamist group denies any divisions.
Abu Ubaida told al Jazeera television: “There is no coordination between the military (wings) of the Palestinian resistance faction and the government or the authority.”
Egypt condemned Israeli forces for killing the nine Palestinians, including five militants, and also called on the Palestinians to refrain from firing rockets into Israel.
The United States said Tuesday’s rocket attacks were nothing new. “De facto there hasn’t been much of a ceasefire in the past. They have continued to fire Qassam rockets into Israel, so, practically speaking, I ... can’t tell you what effect this will have,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
An Israeli army spokesman said at least six rockets were fired at Israel on Tuesday, two of which landed near a southern Israeli town. There were no reports of casualties.
It is not clear how a breakdown in the ceasefire might affect Israeli efforts to secure the release of soldier Gilad Shalit, abducted in a cross-border raid from Gaza last June. Abu Ubaida said Hamas’s armed wing will try to capture more Israeli soldiers to force Israel to release Palestinian prisoners.
Additional reporting by Adam Entous in Jerusalem and Inal Ersan in Dubai