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Hamas officially ends fragile cease-fire with Israel

JERUSALEM — Hamas declared a formal end to its cease-fire with Israel on Thursday, ruling out an extension of a 6-month-old pact that had begun to fray weeks ago with tit-for-tat attacks across Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the militant group that governs Gaza, said the truce was expiring early today. He said it was not being renewed because "the enemy refused to comply" with promises to lift a crippling blockade of the Palestinian enclave.

The decision's immediate effect was unclear. Hamas stopped short of threatening an escalation of rocket and mortar attacks, and Israeli officials said they were reluctant to launch a major military offensive in the densely populated territory.

But the collapse of the Egyptian-brokered accord dimmed hope of a long-term calm that could help Israel avoid friction with moderate Arab nations. It raised the threat of fresh strikes on southern Israeli towns within rocket range of Gaza and a tighter squeeze on the coastal strip's 1.5-million Palestinians, already short of food, fuel, electricity and other essential goods.

"The truce was always fragile, with numerous violations by each side from the beginning," said Robert Pastor, an American University professor who joined former President Jimmy Carter in meeting Hamas leaders in Syria last weekend. He also went to Jerusalem, without Carter, to discuss the truce with Israel.

Pastor said both sides still have an opportunity to revive and expand the accord, "but this will become less likely if the pattern of rockets and retaliation continues."

Israel has sharply restricted movement across its border with Gaza since Hamas, whose charter calls for destroying the Jewish state, won the Palestinian Authority's parliamentary elections in 2006 and launched near-daily rocket attacks from Gaza. The boycott was tightened after the Islamic group seized full control of the territory in June 2007, ousting the rival Fatah movement.

Hamas' truce with Israel was the first such accord to call for easing the blockade. It was conditioned on observance of a "mutual and simultaneous calm" by the Israeli army and Gaza's well-armed paramilitary units.

Although violence and casualties dropped sharply during the cease-fire, neither side was satisfied. The truce began to unravel Nov. 4, when Israeli forces entered Gaza for the first time since June to blow up a tunnel.

Hamas officially ends fragile cease-fire with Israel 12/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 1:06pm]

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