Hamas hints it wants to prevent attacks
Statement made after Israeli strike injures 3 children
GAZA CITY — Gaza’s Hamas rulers indicated yesterday that they were trying to keep attacks on Israel in check, in an apparent attempt to keep a recent spate of violence from spiraling into open conflict.
Hamas made this known just hours after Israeli aircraft pounded multiple targets in the territory in response to the latest rocket attack on southern Israel. Three Palestinian children were wounded in one of the Israeli air strikes, Gaza health official Moaiya Hassanain said.
A statement released by the Hamas government after the aerial attacks accused Israel of an “escalation’’ against Gaza. But the Hamas government also said it was “making contact with the factions to safeguard internal agreement.’’
Hamas has never explicitly criticized attacks against Israel, though top officials have said such attacks do not serve Palestinian interests. Yesterday’s statement signaled the Islamic group was pushing to get the territory’s other militant groups to honor this policy.
Last year, Israel conducted a devastating military offensive in Gaza after years of rocket attacks. Since then, Hamas has tried to avoid provoking sweeping Israeli military action and has not claimed responsibility for rockets in more than a year.
But a string of recent Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel and retaliatory Israeli air strikes have ratcheted up tensions. In March, Gaza militants fired nearly 20 rockets and mortars at Israel, about half the more than 40 fired overall since the beginning of the year, according to the military’s count. Israel has retaliated with strikes on 28 sites in Gaza since Jan. 1, the military said.
Most of the recent militant attacks have been claimed by groups considered more radical than Hamas who accuse Gaza’s ruling movement of going soft on its main rallying cry of armed confrontation with Israel.
The militant group’s leadership is eager to avoid being held responsible for increased suffering in Gaza, where 80 percent of the population relies on UN food handouts for basic sustenance. Gazans have been unable to rebuild the large swaths of the territory that were damaged or destroyed during the Israeli offensive because an Israeli and Egyptian blockade keeps out building materials.
Israel, for its part, has an interest in keeping tensions in check so its southern communities can live peacefully. New violence in Gaza could also intensify world criticism of Israel as it tries to fend off war crimes allegations linked to its Gaza offensive and to ease friction with the Obama administration over settlement construction.
Hamas, did, however, get involved in gun battles with Israeli forces last week that were the fiercest since the Gaza war ended in January 2009. Two soldiers and three Palestinians were killed in those clashes, including one whose body was discovered yesterday. One of the Palestinians was a civilian; the Islamic Jihad militant group said the other two were members of its organization.
Hamas officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not articulating official policy, said the group did not mean to get involved in last week’s fighting, but was forced to do so once the shooting started to maintain its standing in Gaza.
Israel holds Hamas solely responsible for maintaining peace in the Gaza Strip. In a statement yesterday, the military vowed “to operate firmly against anyone who uses terror against it.’’