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Az-Zahhar: Eilat attack 'used as pretext to attack Gaza'

Aug. 24, 2011 3:45 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 25, 2011 1:09 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The series of shooting attacks in southern Israel on Thursday were part of an "ambiguous operation" used as a pretext to attack the Gaza Strip, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Az-Zahhar said Wednesday.

Israel said militants from Gaza were responsible for the attacks near Eilat which killed eight Israelis.

Israeli warplanes responded immediately, attacking targets in southern Gaza which killed six people, including a two-year-old toddler and five militants from the Popular Resistance Committees -- the group it said was behind the violence.

For four days, Israel bombarded the Gaza Strip killing a total of 14 Palestinians and wounding dozens more, as militants in Gaza responded by firing over 100 rockets across the border which killed one Israeli.

Israeli forces killed five attackers in Eilat, officials said, but did not reveal their identities, which Az-Zahhar noted was unusual.

"So far we don't who they are and where they came from. Israel has not published their photos, or photos of the slain Israelis as they usually do with such operations.

"Further, no Palestinian factions have claimed responsibility for the attack," the Hamas official added.

"The aggression was conducted for the sake of aggression and there was no justification. Then they targeted an outstanding leader of the Popular Resistance in Rafah Abu Awad An-Nayrab and five others and resistance factions found themselves obliged to retaliate."

After four days of cross-border violence, Hamas spokesman Taher An-Nunu said Monday that factions in Gaza had committed to a truce with Israel.

On Sunday night, the Hamas-run security forces were "instructed to stop the shooting" against Israel, with police checking cars in the border area, and checkpoints set up at the entrance to every town in Gaza.

Az-Zahhar said Hamas' duty was "to coordinate with other factions, organize resistance activities, and protect the Gaza Strip from being occupied again."

He said all factions agreed to the ceasefire while retaining the right to respond to Israeli attacks.

"Hamas is not a police officer who protects Israeli interests," he said, explaining that Hamas sought a truce based on deterring Israel rather than cooperating with it or yielding to its demands.

Az-Zahhar denied claims that some factions were actually fronts for Hamas under different names.

"What illusionary groups have Hamas made up?" he asked.

"All the factions operating in Gaza are real and have their supporters and their military wings. They were called by Egypt to attend national occasions such as the reconciliation agreement, so can we claim that Egypt is dealing with made up factions?"

"Israel started its aggression on Islamic Jihad’s activists brutally killing members of the Qureiqi family. The Islamic Jihad’s military wing responded. Is the Islamic Jihad made up by Hamas, or it is a real faction?"

Regarding Egypt's role in mediating the latest ceasefire with Israel, Az-Zahhar said Arab countries had been contacted as soon as tensions began to escalate.
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