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Israelis Celebrate Independence Day as Hamas Fires Rockets


Israelis celebrated their 59th Independence Day on Tuesday as Hamas militants fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, some Hamas militants say their five-month truce with Israel is over.

Israel's 59th Independence Day was marked by a barrage of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. For the first time in months, Hamas militants claimed responsibility for the attacks, which caused no damage or injuries.

A leader of the armed wing of Hamas threatened more attacks and said the five-month old cease fire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups has come to an end.

The announcement comes just two days after Israeli missiles killed at least 8 Palestinians, including a 17-year old girl.

Speaking at a Gaza news conference, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader who heads the Palestinian unity government, stopped short of saying the five-month truce is over. However he did say controlling militants in the Gaza Strip is becoming more difficult, because of Israeli attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank and a lack of progress on a prisoner exchange deal with Israel.

Haniyeh says the international community must do more to stop Israeli attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank, saying the situation is not a Palestinian problem but an Israeli one.

Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres on Tuesday blamed divisions among Palestinians and weak Palestinian leadership for the violence, saying Israeli actions in the West Bank were designed to prevent suicide attacks inside Israel.

On Monday, in an address honoring Israel's war dead, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel is willing to make painful concessions for peace. However, referring to a possible prisoner swap with Palestinian militants, Mr. Olmert said Israel will not repeat mistakes it has made in the past.

Israel's prime minister says in the past Israel has released prisoners only to see them carry out further attacks against Israelis. He says, however, that a difficult decision will have to be made to get Israeli prisoners released.

The prime minister has seen his political fortunes decline precipitously since last year's Independence Day when he had just won national elections on a pledge to draw Israel's final border with the Palestinians. His political future could be determined next month with the release of an interim report by an official commission that is expected to criticize his government's conduct of last year's war in Lebanon.

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