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A Palestinian militant crossed over the border from Gaza into Israel today and fired on a group of Israeli soldiers, killing one and interrupting months of calm. Israeli troops returned fire, killing the militant.
Islamic Jihad, one of several militant groups in Gaza, sent a text message to journalists welcoming the attack and calling him a martyr, AP reports, although Reuters reports that the group denied responsibility for the attack.
Although Hamas has not claimed any involvement in this latest attack and has actually shied away from any provocations of Israel lately, the Israeli military holds Hamas ultimately responsible for all attacks out of Gaza because it continues to amass weapons and has not renounced violence against Israel.
The last bout of violence, in March, was spurred by the killing of a Palestinian militant leader. Four days of rockets from Gaza and airstrikes by the Israeli military followed. Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees carried out those attacks, with Hamas remaining on the sidelines. According to AP, Hamas wants to avoid a large-scale conflict like the one in December 2008 because it could undermine its control of the Gaza Strip.
The cross-border infiltration might have been a kidnapping attempt like the one that resulted in the capture of Gilad Shalit in 2006, the Guardian reports, noting that Gaza militant groups have acknowledged their intentions of kidnapping more Israelis to use as bargaining chips for the release of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. Mr. Shalit was released in October, in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, after being held in Gaza for five years.
"This is our strategy. It's the only way to force Israel to release prisoners," Abu Tarek Mudalel, an Islamic Jihad leader, told the Guardian.
Just yesterday Israel returned the remains of 91 Palestinians to the West Bank and Gaza as a "confidence-building measure" intended to help relaunch peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Most of those whose bodies were returned were killed while staging attacks on Israelis, The New York Times reports.
“We hope that this humanitarian gesture will serve both as a confidence-building measure and help get the peace process back on track,” Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said yesterday, according to the NYT. “Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever.”
Since a series of exploratory discussions in January in Jordan, which did not bring about any substantial progress, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have exchanged a series of letters discussing their positions. PA President Mahmoud Abbas raised the possibility of a return of the remains in mid-May, according to NYT.