JERUSALEM, AP, – A day of violence in which six people were killed threatened a four-month truce, but Israeli and Palestinian officials were making efforts to hold the line.
The dead in Tuesday”s incidents were three workers at a Jewish settlement in Gaza killed in a Palestinian mortar strike, two West Bank militants shot dead by soldiers and an infiltrator from Egypt to Gaza gunned down by Israeli forces.
The day”s toll reflected a gradual but steady increase in the level of violence in recent weeks, straining the cease-fire declared on Feb. 8, which significantly reduced violence after more than four years of bloodshed.
While criticizing Palestinian officials over the barrages, the new Israeli army commander counseled patience, and Palestinian police foiled an attempt by militants to fire rockets at Israel.
More than a dozen rockets and mortar shells exploded in Jewish settlements in Gaza and an Israeli town just outside on Tuesday. Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility in what appeared to be in part an internal power struggle.
Hamas is contesting Palestinian parliamentary elections for the first time and is expected to do well because of voter frustration with a decade of corrupt and inefficient rule by Fatah, the party of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas indefinitely the postponed the election, set for July 17, citing technical reasons — but it appeared to be a tactic to allow himself more time for reforms and accomplishments to try to win back popular support.
Hamas leaders are furious, and though they said they were retaliating for Israeli violations with their rocket barrages, Israel”s new army commander felt the internal battle was to blame.
"They conduct their internal dialogue partly by firing rockets and mortars at Gush Katif and Sderot," said Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, referring to the Gaza settlements and the town hit by a rocket.
Halutz toured Sderot and then talked to reporters for the first time since he assumed command last week. He blamed Abbas” administration.
"Today”s events are another example of the weakness of the Palestinian Authority in imposing its will on the terrorist groups," Halutz said.
But he rejected calls from residents and hard-liners for quick military retaliation. "First of all I”d suggest that Israel should not act like terrorists," Halutz said. "Fury is not a plan of action."
Halutz pledged to carry out the government edict that the summer pullout from Gaza must not take place under fire. Though both sides are preparing for the pullout, serious coordination has yet to take place.
Israel”s plan to evacuate all 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank appeared to be a good reason for the two sides to try to maintain the cease-fire, though Palestinian militants want to show that they are driving the Israelis out by force.
After a day of rocket and mortar fire, Palestinian police stepped in before nightfall Tuesday and stopped a launch attempt from northern Gaza into Israel.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said a launcher and three rockets were confiscated, but the militants escaped. "We are doing our utmost to fulfill our obligations, enforce the law and make sure that declared truce is respected," he said.
A barefoot Palestinian officer in a military uniform was seen hauling one of the rockets away on his shoulder.
Britain”s visiting foreign secretary, Jack Straw, accused Hamas and other groups of using "wanton, random terror" to weaken Abbas.
Straw said his government would have "no dealings" with Hamas” leadership until the group renounces violence, despite admitting earlier in the day that British diplomats recently met with Hamas-affiliated politicians.