GAZA, (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinian militants in Gaza on Friday, drawing vows of revenge from members and supporters of the Islamist group Hamas as it prepared to form a government.
“Martyrs rest in peace and we will continue the struggle,” thousands of Hamas supporters chanted as they fired into the air at funerals for the two militants, including the son of a newly elected Hamas member of parliament.
Elsewhere in Gaza, a top Hamas bombmaker died when a device blew up as he was training militants to prepare explosives.
“Hamas is continuing to train the mujahideen in order to pursue their task of jihad,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was “gravely concerned” about the recent escalation of Israeli military operations, particularly in Gaza and Nablus, which have resulted in a number of Palestinian deaths, spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.
“He also expresses concern about a marked increase in rocket attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli targets,” Okabe said at U.N. headquarters in New York.
Hamas’s landslide victory over President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction in the Jan. 25 Palestinian election paved the way for the group to form a new Cabinet and knocked down hopes Middle East peacemaking might be revived.
Abbas told Israel’s Channel 10 television in an interview broadcast on Friday that he believed Hamas was trying to persuade armed factions in Gaza to stop rocket attacks, which have persisted despite Israel’s Gaza pullout in September.
“They have started to talk about this now because being in the opposition is one thing and being in the (Palestinian) Authority is something else,” he said. “I am sure they have started to tell (militant groups) that the calm should be maintained.”
Abu Zuhri said Hamas believed the factions had the right “to defend the Palestinian people in the face of the continued Israeli aggression.”
Abu Qusai, a leader of the Fatah-affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, said his group had often met officials from Hamas but had never discussed stopping rocket attacks.
Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh said Abbas’ comments were “clearly aimed at helping the new government, led by Hamas, to win international acceptance.”
Abbas said Israel should wait a few months to give Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, a chance to change its stance about the Jewish state. He has said he believes the group will become more moderate.
Hamas, which has carried out about 60 suicide bombings since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, has largely abided by a yearlong truce. Israeli security officials say Hamas has assisted other militant groups in their attacks instead.
Israel and the United States have withdrawn some funding for the Palestinian Authority in a bid to pressure Hamas to disarm and recognize the Jewish state and past peace deals.
Violence has surged in recent days as Hamas begins coalition talks, including with militant groups.
Israeli troops killed two Palestinian militants planting bombs near the Israel-Gaza border, a day after the army shot dead five gunmen in the West Bank city of Nablus during its biggest raid aimed at arresting militants since mid-2005.
Meanwhile, several rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza landed in southern Israel, causing no casualties.
Speaking in Gaza City, spokesmen for five militant groups, including Islamic Jihad, vowed to attack “the depth of the Zionist entity” in response to Israel’s recent killings.