kassam ashkelon 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian armed groups in Gaza fired three Kassam rockets at Israel early Sunday, and another four later in the morning, despite reports that they had agreed to halt such attacks.
Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip decided on Saturday to declare a unilateral cease-fire with Israel, Palestinian Authority officials said. The decision, which primarily calls for halting rocket attacks on Israel, was to go into effect on Saturday at midnight, the officials added.
They said the decision to announce a unilateral cease-fire was taken following pressure from Egypt. According to the official, the armed wings of Hamas and Fatah agreed to abide by the cease-fire.
Despite the announcement, some armed groups in the Gaza Strip denied that they had agreed to stop firing rockets at Israel and vowed to pursue their attacks.
The announcement came on the eve of the visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region and is seen as an attempt on the part of the Palestinians to win US backing for ending Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday rejected Rice's call for a "new Middle East" and accused Washington of seeking to destroy Hamas and Hizbullah. He also claimed that the US's plan was to turn the Middle East into a region dominated by Israel.
Haniyeh, who was speaking to reporters in Gaza City, urged the US to respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people and to halt the Israeli military operations in Lebanon and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"If the 'new Middle East' means striking at the resistance and turning Israel into the dominant power in the region, all the people in the Middle East will reject it," he said.
"But if the new Middle East they want means ending the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as it capital, as well as the return of all the refugees and the release of all the Arab prisoners, we will certainly welcome it."
Haniyeh strongly criticized the US administrations' policy toward his Hamas government and called on Washington to endorse a "balanced" approach in dealing with the Middle East conflict.
"Ever since this government took over, the US government has refused to accept it and has even taken a biased and unjust position toward us," he said. "They are refusing to deal with a democratically elected government and they don't want to respect the choice of our people. It's time for the US to reconsider its policy and to respect the rules of the democratic game."
Haniyeh said that despite the full US backing for Israel, the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs in general would never succumb. "The Israelis are killing us with American weapons," he added. "But we will never surrender and we will continue to defend our rights."
On the eve of Rice's visit, tensions between Hamas and PA President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party increased as Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam decided to dismiss the commander of the Fatah-controlled Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip.
Sources close to Abbas said the decision to fire Gen. Suleiman Abu Mutlak was "illegal" because the PA security forces are under the jurisdiction of the PA president and not the Hamas government. It's not clear why Siam decided to dismiss Abu Mutlak, but Hamas has in the past accused the Preventive Security Service of collaborating with Israel and the US against the Hamas government.
Over the weekend, Abbas held talks in Gaza City with scores of Hamas officials in an attempt to resolve the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Hamas officials who attended the talks said Abbas supported their demand that the soldier be freed only in the context of a prisoner swap with Israel.
Egyptian mediators in the Gaza Strip have stepped up their pressure on Hamas to release Shalit to avoid more violence and bloodshed.
Several Egyptian diplomats and security officials met over the weekend with Hamas leaders and urged them to agree to a deal where Israel would release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners only weeks after Shalit's release. The proposal is aimed at providing a face-saving solution for Israel, which does not want to be seen as having succumbed to the demands of terrorists.
One of the Hamas representatives, Salah Bardaweel, said Abbas informed him and his colleagues that his office had received $96 million in international aid. The money will go to paying salaries of PA civil servants and to cover the running expense of local authorities and ministries, Bardaweel quoted Abbas as saying.