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Palestinian Chief Refuses to Budge on Israel Stance

The World

Latest threats to cut off aid don't sway the prime minister. Meanwhile, strikes in Gaza kill eight.

April 09, 2006|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — In the face of imminent funding cuts from Europe and the United States, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday reiterated his government's refusal to recognize the state of Israel and forswear violence.

Haniyeh's pledge, made at the opening of an exhibition of children's projects in Gaza City, came on the same day of two Israeli airstrikes on militant targets.

The first missile strike in the Gaza Strip killed two militants and injured a bystander. A second strike by Israel killed six people and injured four, said medics at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis. On Friday, Israeli missiles killed six people, including a child.

Israeli forces have recently increased attacks on militants operating from within the Gaza Strip, which Israel evacuated last summer.

The strikes Saturday targeted militants affiliated with Fatah, the movement led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The first attack hit a car, killing an Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade spokesman and another militant, Palestinian security sources said. A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said the air force fired the missile after seeing the two Palestinians fire a rocket toward Israel and then get into a car.

The second strike killed six militants affiliated with the Fatah-linked Abu Rish Brigade at their training compound near Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza Strip. The attack "was not in response to a particular launching, but in response to their general activity against Israel," an Israeli military spokesman said.

Hamas, which Haniyeh now leads, has largely abided by a yearlong truce, but other militant groups operating in Gaza have continued their attacks.

Abu Haron, a spokesman for the Abu Rish group, threatened to respond with violence.

"We say to [Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud] Olmert and his gang

Haniyeh, who assumed the prime minister's post a little more than a week ago, accused the West of conspiring with Israel to blackmail Hamas by withholding funds. Two major donors, the United States and the European Union, announced Friday that they were halting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Hamas-led government, but said they would try to find a way to get the money to the Palestinian people through humanitarian organizations and projects.

Nearly a third of Palestinians are on the government payroll, and many groups have warned of disaster if aid is cut off.

Haniyeh told a small crowd at the exhibition that his government refused to bow to those whose goal was to undermine Hamas. Speaking in classical Arabic metaphors, he said they wanted to "have our castles fall, but our castles will not fall and our dream will not fall.... They will not harm Palestinian rights."

Hamas, which denies Israel's right to exist and has launched scores of attacks against Israeli citizens, won a sweeping victory at the polls in January.

Abbas and other Palestinian officials have described the Israeli attacks as "military aggression" and asked the international community to intervene.

Haniyeh made the same plea to the Russian representative to the Palestinian Authority, Alex Poghodine, who had called on Haniyeh to congratulate him on his new post.

Since taking power, Hamas officials have sent conflicting signals, suggesting in some comments that they might be willing to discuss the side-by-side existence of Israeli and Palestinian states, thus implicitly accepting Israel's existence. In other comments, they deny there is any softening of their position.

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Special correspondent Fayed abu Shammaleh in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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