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Hamas wing takes credit for past attacks

Dec. 25, 2010 1:29 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 27, 2010 10:30 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- Hamas' military wing said Saturday that the Israelis were “playing with fire” by escalating tensions in the Gaza Strip.

The Al-Qassam Brigades said they were observing a previously declared ceasefire with Israel not out of weakness or fear, but to protect lives of Palestinian people and to prevent them from being drawn into a second war.

“However, if that war erupts, we will not stand hand-folded; we will fight fiercely,” the group’s spokesman Abu Ubayda said at a news conference in Gaza City. He highlighted that Israeli threats would not scare Al-Qassam’s fighters or deter them. They will instead become stronger and more willing to fight and face any Israeli action to make the Israelis regret it, he said.

The official also claimed responsibility, for the first time, for a series of operations conducted between 2005 and 2010 that killed 15 Israeli soldiers and injured 47. The operations, according to Abu Ubayda, were in the Hebron area near Hagay settlement in the southern West Bank, in Etzion, in mount Sindas and in the Old City of Jerusalem.

He also claimed responsibility for a 2008 attack on a Jewish Yeshiva in Jerusalem which was orchestrated by Alaa Abu Dheim, who shot dead eight students and injured more than 30 others.

Ahmed Al-Jabari, the head of Al-Qassam, had an even more militant message for Israel, saying Hamas would not rest until Israel was ousted from all Palestinian lands and Israelis faced either two choices: "death or departing Palestinian lands."

"Our resistance will continue as long as the Zionists remain," said a letter signed by Jabari, published in a Hamas magazine.

Their comments come a day after a senior political leader of the movement, Mahmoud Zahhar, said Hamas was committed to the truce in effect since the January 2009 end of the 22-day Israeli offensive on the strip aimed at halting rocket fire by Palestinian militants.

But it also comes amid rising tension along Israel's border with the tiny coastal enclave.

Overnight Saturday, Israeli warplanes hit four targets in the Gaza Strip, wounding at least two people and knocking out power in a large swathe of the strip.

The strikes came after militants fired a mortar and rocket into Israel on Friday, according to the army, which called the target a "terror center."

A total of 23 mortars and four rockets have been launched at Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip since Sunday, the army said. One of the rockets struck near a kindergarten in a southern Israeli kibbutz, wounding a teenage girl.

On December 18, Israeli warplanes hit central Gaza, killing five militants as they were about to launch a rocket attack, according to the army and witnesses.

While most of the rockets fired have been by other groups, Israel still says it holds Hamas, which rules the strip, responsible for maintaining calm there.

AFP contributed to this report.
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