Hamas wounds four Israeli soldiers in mortar attack

Updated: 2007-06-03 17:20

JERUSALEM - Hamas militants wounded four soldiers in a mortar attack on a base near the Gaza Strip on June 3, shortly after Israel's prime minister vowed to press ahead with military operations against Palestinian gunmen.

The attack on the base near the Erez border crossing seriously wounded one soldier and lightly wounded three others, the army said. Hamas militants claimed responsibility in a text message sent to reporters.

After two weeks of heavy fighting, there has been a sharp reduction in Palestinian rocket and mortar fire in recent days, and over the weekend, Hamas proposed a one-year truce with Israel.

But at the weekly meeting of his Cabinet, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would not ease its military campaign against Palestinian militants.

"In light of what appears to be a drop in Qassam rocket fire, I want to make clear: We are not holding negotiations. We are not committing to changing our method of operations," Olmert said.

In an interview published over the weekend in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk suggested the group may be interested in a one-year truce with Israel.

But Hamas wants the cease-fire to include the West Bank as well as Gaza, an idea that Israel rejects as a ruse that would allow militants to regroup and step up attacks.

In addition to an air and artillery campaign against Palestinian rocket squads operating in Gaza, the Israeli military regularly carries out arrest raids in the West Bank. Early Sunday, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank town of Jenin, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

That clash came not long after Israeli troops on an overnight arrest raid in the nearby town of Nablus killed an unarmed Palestinian, according to Palestinian security officials. The army said troops fired at a gunman.

A previous Gaza truce between Hamas and Israel unraveled in mid-May when Hamas intensified rocket launchings into Israel, killing two Israelis. In counterstrikes on the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army has killed more than 60 Palestinians, most of them militants.

Halting the bloodshed will be at the top of the agenda in a meeting next week between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas, leader of the moderate Fatah Party, has been trying to press coalition partner Hamas to renew the truce, and a member of the Hamas political bureau, Mohammed Nazal, confirmed on Saturday that Hamas is considering a cease-fire.

But Israel is skeptical of Hamas' intentions.

"The current cease-fire in Gaza is unfortunately a sham," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "It would seem that before we talk about expanding the cease-fire, we should first get it right."

Abbas has long sought to restart peace efforts with Israel. Israel says there can be no major progress on the diplomatic front before Hamas-linked militants release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in a cross-border raid nearly a year ago. Shalit has not been seen or heard from, and secretive negotiations for a prisoner swap deal have not succeeded so far.

In an interview published Sunday in the Palestinian newspaper al-Quds, Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said Israel and Hamas were still haggling over the details of the deal. Taha said Israel rejected a list of 350 prisoners Hamas wanted released, agreeing to only 45 of the names.


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