Hamas fires rockets into south Israel

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The Independent Online

Hamas militants fired four Katyusha rockets at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon yesterday as escalating violence threatened to end a five-month ceasefire that both sides insist they want to maintain.

The rocket attacks, which caused no injuries, came after an Israeli airstrike which the military said was against rocket-launching militants in northern Gaza. Palestinian medics said two gunmen were lightly injured. One Israeli was lightly wounded in a salvo of rockets fired at the border town of Sderot.

The renewed fire came amid international calls for a reopening of the crossing which has been sealed for 10 days, blocking the movement of humanitarian goods and keeping diplomats and journalists out of the Strip.

The closure began, along with the degradation of the ceasefire, after a raid by Israeli troops into Gaza which the military said was to thwart the use of a tunnel to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, said: "We will keep protecting our soldiers and people and keep acting against attempts to interrupt the ceasefire, but if the other side will want or wish to keep the ceasefire alive, we'll consider it seriously."

Mahmoud Zahar, among the harder line members of the Hamas political leadership in Gaza, told Israel in a Friday sermon: "If you want to leave the truce, we are ready. And if you want to continue it, then abide by it."

John Ging, Gaza director of operations of the UN refugee agency UNRWA said 20,000 Palestinians would be unable to pick up food parcels today.

As Gaza City bakers reported high demand for bread from residents unable to home-bake because of power shortages, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European external relations commissioner, urged Israel to reopen Gaza's border crossings "for humanitarian and commercial flows, in particular food and medicines".

Jacob Walles, the US consul general in Jerusalem, said: "We don't want to see a return of violence, and we also don't want to see a humanitarian crisis in Gaza."

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