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Gaza rockets strain Israel-Hamas truce

Palestinian militants from Islamic Jihad fired rockets on Israel Tuesday in retaliation for an Israeli strike on its members in the West Bank.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 25, 2008

Sharm elSheik, Egypt

In the first test of a five-day-old Gaza cease-fire, Palestinian militants fired rockets into southern Israel just hours after Israeli and Egyptian leaders met at this Red Sea resort to discuss possibly deepening the truce with a new round of talks on a prisoner exchange with Hamas.

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Islamic Jihad said it fired a salvo of Qassam missiles, which left two people with minor injuries, as retaliation for the killing of two of its members by the Israeli army in the West Bank earlier in the day.

The attack is a challenge to Hamas, which has pledged to enforce a tahdiyeh, Arabic for calm, on the disparate militia groups. In exchange for imposing the cease-fire in the Palestinian territory, Hamas expects Israel to make good on a promise to lift a blockade on the coastal enclave. Hamas officials have condemned the Tuesday strike.

"This definitely is a test for all of us on both sides of the fence," says Eyad Sarraj, the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program. "Hamas must exercise control, show leadership, and wisdom and maturity" and rein in Islamic Jihad.

Most of an hour-long private meeting in Sharm el-Sheik between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was dedicated to the Gaza cease-fire with Hamas, in which Egypt served as a key go-between.

The rocket attack, which hit the southern Israeli town of Sderot, triggered a new round of consultations with the Egyptians after the Israelis departed. Israeli officials declined to comment on how they would respond to the cease-fire violation.

"This is obviously a clear and grave violation of the agreements with the Egyptians to achieve calm in the south," says Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"We left there with understandings that the calm was working, more or less … and we came back to the reality of Qassams on Sderot and people's housing being bombed."