Gaza quiet after ceasefire with Israel ends

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Armed Islamist factions in Gaza put their men on alert today after ending a six-month truce with Israel and warned the Jewish state not to attack. But apart from the rhetoric, calm prevailed.

Masked Palestinian conducted exercises in front of television cameras in the hours immediately after the Islamist Hamas group, which controls the coastal strip, unilaterally brought an end to the ceasefire.

Civilians on both sides seemed to shrug off the end of the ceasefire, which many in Gaza feel never delivered the expected easing of the Israeli blockade, and many in Israel feel never delivered the expected security from Palestinian attacks.

The truce has in fact been eroded almost daily since early November by Israeli raids against Islamist militants and showers of largely ineffective rockets fired into Israel from Gaza.

Israeli military sources reported a minor shooting incident in the morning when workers in the fields of a kibbutz farm near the Gaza border were fired on. No one was hurt and no fire returned. Two Islamist rockets exploded harmlessly in Israel.

Masked Islamist gunmen made televised statements before today's Muslim prayer warning there would be bloodshed if Israel attacked.

"Now we will be the fate of the enemy of God, the Jews. We will be the soldiers of our nation. We will not close an eye watching the borders and the enemy will find no way into our dear Gaza Strip," said an officer of Hamas armed wing Izz el-Deen al-Qassam.

"If they come in here then Gaza will be their graveyard, a large graveyard for the invaders," he told gunmen in uniform as they drilled with AK-47 assault rifles in southern Gaza farmland near the Israel-fortified border.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has made it plain over the past week that he has no plans to order any large assault on Gaza, unless there is gross provocation, and would have preferred an extension of the ceasefire.

Some of Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinian residents, who rely on supplies via illicit tunnels from Egypt as long as Israel keeps borders closed, feel the truce was a swindle.

"With or without truce it is all the same. The truce was not too good, it is all the same," said Talal al-Assal. "The Jews did not open the crossings either. If it was not for the tunnels then we would have no buying or selling.".

Samir Abu Hattab of Khan Younis in the south also wanted a truce if it came with easier access to the outside world.

"We want the truce with the opening of the crossings and lifting of the siege. We want a complete truce that includes the West Bank and the Gaza strip," he said. "I am in favour of calm, but a comprehensive and simultaneous calm..."

In the quiet southern Israel of Sderot, regularly in the firing line of Gaza rockets, people were watchful but hardly more alarmed than on any other day in the past month.

Those in range said there had never been a proper truce in their opinion and today was no different than yesterday.

"Of course we are worried, but there is nothing we can do. Life must go on," said Sderot resident Shimon Maman. Another said the ending the ceasefire by Hamas mean nothing.

"There was never a ceasefire so the 19th (of December) says nothing to me," he said.

Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza said their forces had undergone training during the six-month truce and were prepared for any military escalation with Israeli forces.

"The calm is over," Hamas official Ayman Taha said on Thursday, "because the enemy did not abide by its obligations" to ease a crippling blockade of Gaza and halt all attacks.

Hamas has not made any threat of an immediate escalation of violence against Israel, which wants the ceasefire to go on.

"We think the lull is in the best interest of both sides," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "We would like it to continue."