- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A sharp flare-up of violence yesterday — including one Palestinian militant killed, an Israeli air strike against Hamas and the shelling of Jewish settlements — jeopardized a fragile truce and threatened to derail efforts to restart Middle East peace talks.

Both Israel and Hamas warned of punishing responses that could degenerate into a resumption of attacks, counterattacks, invasions and bombings.

At nightfall, Palestinian police moved in to try to quell the outbreak in Khan Younis, a poverty-stricken Gaza Strip city of 100,000, with a squalid refugee camp of 60,000.

The Palestinian Interior Ministry charged that Hamas militants used civilians as shields, and eight officers were hurt by rocks.

“This cannot be accepted, and this serious violation will not pass” unanswered, the ministry said.

Such violence has been rare since the cease-fire was declared at a Feb. 8 summit by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The trouble began just after midnight with Israeli soldiers shooting and killing a 22-year-old Hamas militant on the Gaza-Egypt border. The Israeli military said Palestinians fired rifles and anti-tank grenades at soldiers, who returned the fire.

In apparent retaliation, Palestinians launched more than 20 mortar shells at Jewish settlements across from the refugee camp, slightly wounding an Israeli. For the first time since the truce was declared, Israeli helicopters flew into Palestinian territory and fired a missile, saying the target was “a terrorist cell about to launch further mortars.”

Two Palestinians were wounded, one critically.

The truce has survived a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in February and a barrage of more than 90 rockets and mortars on Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip on a single day in April after Israeli troops killed three Palestinian teenagers.

Also yesterday, the Palestinian legislature approved a new electoral law, but Mr. Abbas is expected to veto the legislation, raising fresh doubts about whether a parliamentary election set for July 17 will be held on time.

Mr. Abbas and his Fatah movement, which controls parliament, are wrangling over the method by which the new legislature will be chosen. Mr. Abbas wants all lawmakers to be chosen from party slates. However, under the new electoral law passed yesterday, two-thirds of the legislators would be elected from districts.

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