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The Guardian

Israel Rejects Gaza Ceasefire

Allegra Stratton and agencies

Israel today dismissed a proposal by Hamas for a six-month truce inside the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinian group would use the period to prepare for more fighting rather than peace.0425 05 1 2 3

The Hamas offer, issued yesterday after talks with Egyptian mediators, departed from previous demands by the group that any ceasefire apply simultaneously in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Israel is reluctant to enter into any formal agreement that could strengthen Hamas against its West Bank-based rival, Fatah. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah's leader, is currently pursuing US-sponsored peace talks with Israel.

But the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, signalled his flexibility last month by saying military attacks on Gaza would cease if Hamas stopped cross-border rocket attacks.

"Israel is interested in peace. Unfortunately, Hamas is playing games. Hamas is biding time in order to re-arm and regroup," David Baker, an Israeli spokesman, said today.

"There would be no need for Israel's defensive actions if Hamas would cease and desist from committing terrorist attacks on Israelis," Baker said, in reference to Israeli air strikes and commando raids in Gaza. "Israel will continue to act to protect its citizens."

Early this morning, a Palestinian militant shot and killed two Israeli security guards at a factory on the border between Israel and the West Bank. Riad al-Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, condemned the attack, saying it was meant "to undermine the efforts by the Palestinian government to undertake full security responsibilities in the West Bank".


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The attack would also embarrass Abbas while he was in Washington meeting US officials, al-Malki said.

Any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal will have to include an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to make room for a Palestinian state. Israel says leaders in both Gaza and the West Bank must rein in violent extremists first.

Israel argued that attacks like the one today prove Palestinian authorities are not yet capable of controlling militants in their territories.

The Israeli military said the gunman approached the two guards while they were screening workers entering the small industrial zone of Nitzanei Shalom, opened fire and then escaped.

The industrial zone is located on the line between Israel and the West Bank. It contains five Israeli factories that employ Palestinians.

Palestinian security officials in the nearby town of Tulkarem said soldiers moved into the West Bank in force after the attack and set up a checkpoint.

© 2008 The Guardian

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