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Palestinian Militants Warn of New Violence, Following Israeli W. Bank Operations - 2003-08-08

Palestinian militant groups are warning of new violence in the wake of Israeli military operations in the West Bank, and admit they are using a temporary cease-fire to re-arm. The warnings come amid fears that the cease-fire, which went into effect in late June, could collapse.

Palestinian militants say Israel is violating the cease-fire, and warn that the comparative quiet of the past month could end as a result of Israeli military actions.

Mohammad al Hindi, a senior political leader of the militant group Islamic Jihad, told VOA that Palestinians reserve the right to defend themselves.

"We are not blood lovers," he said. "We are freedom lovers. But when our people are being killed, we have to defend ourselves."

Israel Radio quoted a Hamas spokesman from the Gaza Strip as saying Israel had committed, what he termed, a "gross violation" of the cease-fire that militant Palestinian groups declared at the end of June.

Israeli officials have accused Palestinian militants of taking advantage of the cease-fire in order to re-arm and add to their weapons stockpiles.

Mr. al Hindi admitted in his interview with VOA that his group is using the cease-fire, or hudna in Arabic, to re-arm and warned that, as long as Israel continues its military operations, Palestinians will not be obliged to observe their cease-fire.

"It is natural that we strengthen ourselves during hudna," said Mr. al Hindi. "Did the Israelis do anything to make the Palestinian people feel safe? It is natural that the Palestinians, Fatah, the Islamic Jihad, Hamas be ready to defend their people in the coming stages."

Israel says the cease-fire that went into effect at the end of June was unilaterally declared by the militant groups, and it is under no obligation to curtail its own military operations.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank town of Nablus, one Israeli soldier and two Palestinian militants were killed during an Israeli raid in the Askar refugee camp. A gunfight broke out as the Israelis entered the area. The Israelis responded by firing an anti-tank missile into a building setting off a series of explosions that destroyed much of the third floor of the structure.

The Israeli military says the missile struck either an explosives laboratory or a weapons cache.