Israel kills 4 in Gaza as militants deny truce pact
GAZA: Israel killed four Palestinians in a missile strike and gun battle in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and Palestinian militant leaders denied agreeing to a ceasefire needed to bolster a stumbling new U.S.-backed peace plan.
The latest bloodshed deepened doubt as to whether Hamas, the main militant group behind a campaign of suicide attacks against Israelis, would soon call a “hudna”, or temporary truce.
Political leaders of the Islamist groups denied media reports they had tentatively decided to suspend attacks after talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and said Israel’s military action would not help calm the situation. “We have no idea about these reports. We are still in a process of consultation within the movement. Every time we near a decision (Israel) slaughters more of our people,” senior Hamas figure Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi said after the missile volley that wounded a targeted Hamas militant but killed two civilians. “A decision will be made in coming days. We will take all developments and the continued Israeli aggression into account,” said Rantissi. Hamas’s military wing, the Izz al-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, issued a statement saying the missile attack was “clear evidence that the criminal occupier does not want to achieve the calm”.
Aides to Ariel Sharon said Israel had the right to pursue militants plotting attacks in the absence of a crackdown on them by the new reformist Palestinian leadership. Witnesses said missiles crashed into two cars near Khan Younis in southern Gaza, killing two Palestinians including a woman and wounding their apparent target, a Hamas operative. Israeli troops also killed two Hamas fighters in a gunfight not far from where US envoy John Wolf met Abbas to try to move ahead on the road map envisaging a Palestinian state by 2005.
In Washington, George Bush was sceptical about reports a truce was near. “I’ll believe it when I see it, knowing the history of terrorists in the Middle East,” he said. Palestinian Authority officials voiced confidence that Hamas and Islamic Jihad would accept a moratorium on attacks shortly. —Reuters