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Tensions Rise as Hamas Ends Truce With Israel 

  • Robert Berger

Tensions are high on the border of Israel and the Gaza Strip after a cease-fire comes to an end.

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired rockets into southern Israel, formally ending a six-month old cease-fire. The truce expired on Friday, and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, said it would not be renewed.

A masked member of the Hamas military wing, Abu Obeida, said all Palestinian factions agreed that Israel has not abided by the cease-fire and therefore they would return to armed resistance.

Truce began collapsing after Israeli cross-border raid

In fact, the truce began collapsing a month and a half ago after Israel launched a deadly cross-border raid. The army said it destroyed a tunnel that was going to be used to kidnap Israeli soldiers. Since then, Palestinian rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel nearly every day.

Israel said it wants the Egyptian-mediated truce to continue, but an escalation in rocket fire could bring harsh retaliation.

"We are willing to abide by the understandings reached through the Egyptians, but it can't be unilateral. There has to be a total cessation of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel for calm to succeed," said spokesman Mark Regev.

Both sides bracing for new violence

Israel is reluctant to invade Gaza after it pulled out of the territory and dismantled 21 Jewish settlements there in 2005. It fears an offensive would bring high casualties among Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians, and in turn, international condemnation.

Hamas fears an Israeli invasion could threaten its grip on power in Gaza. So the group has stopped short of saying that it would immediately heat up the border, but warned that it would retaliate for what it termed any Israeli "aggression."

There is a tense standoff, and both sides are bracing for a new round of violence.

In Washington later Friday, U.S. President George Bush will host the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, for a "farewell meeting" between the two leaders. Mr. Bush's term ends next month.

The White House says the talks will focus on building Palestinian institutions, achieving economic development, and training and deploying Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.

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