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Hamas official: No ceasefire until Israel stops aggression

Aug. 20, 2011 10:25 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 22, 2011 12:26 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Senior Hamas official Ahmad Bahar said Saturday that there would be no ceasefire until Israel stopped its aggression on the Palestinian people.

"Any talk about ceasefire between resistance factions and the Israeli occupation must be preceded by halting the Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people," Bahar said in a statement.

The first deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council said the Palestinian people and their resistance were entitled to self-defense by any accessible means.

"The Israeli occupation fiercely attacks Gaza mistakenly believing that it is the weakest link in the current equation," he said.

Israel's reliance on "illusionary arrogance and military might" was a miscalculation, he added, warning that the resistance would "teach the enemy unforgettable lessons, and remind them that deterrence is symmetrical."

"The Palestinian people have not triggered the escalation which Israel is trying to use to achieve exposed internal and external goals."

Meanwhile, senior Israeli ministers prepared to meet late Saturday to discuss escalating a response to rocket fire from Gaza, the Israeli news site Ynet reported.

The ministers will discuss all options including a ground operation in Gaza and assassinations of militant leaders, the report said.

Israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza battled each other for a third day on Saturday, with an Israeli man killed and two children hurt, as well as three Palestinians.

As the fighting continued, world powers trying to broker peace in the Middle East warned that there is a "risk of escalation" and urged key players in the region to hit the brakes.

The Israeli man was killed and seven others wounded, four of them seriously, by Grad rockets from Gaza which struck the southern city of Beersheva, the capital of the Negev, emergency services said.

The Popular Resistance Committees, a radical militant group blamed by Israel for the killing of eight Israelis near the Egyptian border on Thursday, claimed the attack on Beersheva.

The An-Nasser Salah Addin Brigades said it fired two Grad missiles at the Negev capital in an operation it has called "Free people's campaign to take revenge for the dutiful leaders."

Israel has killed seven of its men in strikes since the deadly attack in Eilat, but the group denies responsibility although it has welcomed the operation near Egypt's border.

Since Thursday, warplanes have bombarded the Gaza Strip killing 14 Palestinians and wounding dozens more.

Militants in Gaza responded with a barrage of rocket fire and on Friday the armed wing of Hamas called off a ceasefire with Israel, Al-Aqsa Radio reported late Friday.

On Saturday evening, the Al-Qassam Brigades said it fired four Grad rockets at the town of Ofakim, where officials earlier reported two children had been lightly wounded.

"We fired four Grad rockets at the Zionist town of Ofakim," some 15 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, said a statement from the brigades.

"This is our response to the crimes of the Zionist occupation after the deaths of 15 of our martyrs and dozens of injured" in Gaza.

Earlier rockets fired from Gaza wounded three Palestinian workers in southern Israel and Israeli planes attacked the coastal enclave.

"One rocket hit a house, causing damage but no casualties," police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

"The second fell on open ground, among sand dunes, where it wounded three people, Palestinians staying in Israel illegally, injuring two seriously and one moderately," she said of an attack near Ashdod.

President Mahmud Abbas called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to stop Israel's attacks on Gaza.

The Israeli military said more than 50 rockets or mortar rounds have been fired on Israel since midnight on Friday.

Activists in Gaza claimed 23 rockets struck Israel.

Islamic Jihad and the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also said they took part in the rocket attacks.

In Gaza City around 2,000 mourners, many waving Islamic Jihad banners and Palestinian flags and chanting "revenge, revenge on Tel Aviv" turned out for the funerals of an Islamic Jihad commander, Moataz Qouriqa, his five-year-old son Islam and his brother Munzer, killed in a strike late on Friday.

The army said that in the early hours of Saturday Israeli air force attacked several targets in Gaza.

"Aircraft targeted two terror tunnels and a weapons storage facility in the southern Gaza Strip, as well as a terror activity site in the northern Gaza Strip," a statement said.

Palestinian medical officials said two air strikes targeted northern Gaza on Saturday that injured at least three people, one seriously, but military spokesmen could not confirm any aerial attacks during the day.

The Palestinians did not report any casualties from the overnight strikes, but said that air raids on Friday and Thursday killed a total of 14 people and wounded over 40.

And Palestinians said an Israeli tank fired two shells at an unknown target east of Gaza City on Saturday, but no casualties were reported.

The Arab League is to hold emergency talks on Sunday to discuss the situation, while world powers expressed concern.

A statement in Brussels from the diplomatic quartet of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States said they remain "concerned about the unsustainable situation in Gaza as well as the risk of escalation, and calls for restraint from all sides."

Meanwhile, Israel said it had received no official notification from Egypt that it was recalling its ambassador to Tel Aviv after Egyptian state television reported that claim earlier in the day.

The television report said the ambassador was being withdrawn to protest the killing of the Egyptian policemen on Thursday.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel "regrets" the deaths of Egyptian policemen and promised a full investigation.

For its part, Egypt said it "denounces" Israeli attacks in Gaza and called on Israel to immediately halt strikes.

AFP contributed to this report.

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