Barack Obama

Gaza militants vow wave of attacks against Israel

GAZA (Reuters) - Militant groups in the Gaza Strip said on Thursday they had joined forces to step up attacks against Israel, possibly including suicide bombings.

The statement was made as Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed in Washington to a series of direct talks, seeking to forge the framework for a U.S.-backed peace deal within a year and end a conflict that has boiled for six decades.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said 13 militant groups would work together to launch “more effective attacks” against Israel.

Asked if this included suicide bombings, he said: “All options are open.”

Hamas has claimed responsibility for two separate shooting attacks in the West Bank this week that killed four Israeli settlers and wounded two.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held the first round of face-to-face Israeli-Palestinian talks in 20 months with the goal of reaching a final peace deal envisaging a Palestinian state within a year.

Several armed gunmen held an open-air news conference in Gaza where Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, vowed that militants would “respond to the negotiations that aim at selling out (Palestinian) land.”

The 13 armed groups also include the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and a splinter armed group from Abbas’s Fatah movement.

“We declare that the actions of resistance have gone into a new and advanced stage of cooperation in the field at the highest levels in preparation for more effective attacks against the enemy,” Abu Ubaida said.

Hamas was responsible for dozens of suicide attacks against Israelis during a Palestinian uprising that broke out in 2000 and eased five years later.

Hamas is a rival of Abbas’s Fatah group, which governs the Israeli occupied West Bank. A rift between the two rivals deepened in 2007 after Hamas took Gaza by force from Fatah.

The rift with Hamas makes it more difficult for Abbas to sign a final peace deal with Israel.

Hamas said Abbas’s security forces rounded up hundreds of its activists in the West Bank since the Islamist group claimed responsibility for killing the four Israeli settlers near the city of Hebron on Tuesday.

Writing by Joseph Nasr