GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, AP -Two Palestinians were killed in Israel’s first deadly airstrike in a Gaza border area it recently put off-limits, just as a truce that has drastically reduced violence between the two sides formally ended.
Israel said its air force hit militants who were about to launch a rocket into Israel late Saturday. Israel declared the northern Gaza-Israel border a “no-go” zone last week to stop militants from firing rockets at Israel, and warned that Palestinians entering the area could be shot.
The Palestinian Interior Ministry issued a statement condemning the Israeli strike, saying a shell hit a Palestinian post, hindering police efforts to stop militants from firing a rocket at Israel.
Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri, talking to reporters at the hospital where the victims were taken, threatened revenge against Israel. However, he did not rule out extending a truce declared in February which formally expired at the end of 2005.
Early Sunday, armed Palestinians also stormed a social club on the Gaza City beach, injuring a Palestinian guard and throwing two explosive devices, security officials said. Known as the U.N. club, the facility is the only place in Gaza City where alcohol is served, but it was closed when the attack took place after 2 a.m.
Islamic fundamentalists object to sale and consumption of liquor, but it was not immediately known who the attackers were.
Gaza has been hit by an increasing wave of lawlessness in recent months, with armed gangs kidnapping foreigners, storming government buildings and election offices, and shooting at each other in the streets. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has come under criticism for failing to impose law and order in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal from the area in September.
Abbas said Saturday the lawlessness is hurting the Palestinians and hampering economic development. “The chaos and security lapses create fertile ground for our enemies to hold back our people as they struggle for freedom and independence,” he said in a televised address.
The Israel-Palestinian cease-fire, declared Feb. 8 at a summit in Egypt, significantly reduced the level of violence that began in September 2000. However, each side has frequently accused the other of violations. Egypt has been sponsoring talks among various Palestinian factions to try to keep the truce in place.
Hamas has largely kept the cease-fire as it prepares to run for the first time in Palestinian parliamentary elections, and hinted it could continue. Al-Masri said the truce “stems from higher national Palestinian interests” and that it would “be subject to the upcoming Palestinian dialogue.”
However, he said Israel had not lived up to its part of the deal and warned, “It will not be a one-sided truce.”
Islamic Jihad, which carried out all six suicide bomb attacks since the truce went into effect, released an ambiguous statement noting that the cease-fire had expired. It was not clear whether the group would participate in talks to extend it.
At least two of several dozen armed groups affiliated with Abbas’ Fatah party also noted that the cease-fire expired Saturday night. A statement by the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades said Israeli strikes in Gaza “blew up any truce” and called on all groups to try to carry out suicide attacks against Israel.
Fatah celebrated the anniversary of its founding Sunday, and leaders hoped to turn the day’s rallies into a show of strength in advance of the Jan. 25 election.