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Hamas Abandons Truce, Rejects Abbas Vote Plan

LIANE HANSEN, host:

In the Middle East today, Israeli aircraft fired missiles in the northern Gaza strip at men the Israeli Army said were preparing to launch rockets at Israel. According to the Associated Press, Hamas said two militants, belonging to the ruling Palestinian Party, were killed. Three others were injured.

The attack comes a day after Hamas announced it was calling off a 16-month-old truce. That decision followed the killing on Friday of eight Palestinians at a seaside picnic area by what has been reported to have been Israeli shelling.

NPR's Linda Gradstein is in Gaza. Linda, first, what's the atmosphere like there in Gaza today?

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Well, people are very angry at the attack. Now, by the way, some Israeli military sources are saying it's not clear if it even was Israeli shelling, but Palestinians in Gaza say they believe it was Israeli shelling. They don't accept that it was an accident. They're very angry, and they are calling for more attacks.

A little while ago, a truck by Hamas drove around, calling people to come to the funerals of the gunmen who were killed today by Israeli shelling. There's a lot of anger. There's a lot of sadness. And there are a lot of calls for revenge. And most Palestinians who I spoke to said that they support the Hamas decision to call off the 16-month-old cease fire.

HANSEN: Now, what has been Israel's reaction to that, to Hamas announcing that it is going to call off the cease fire?

GRADSTEIN: Well, first of all, Israel put itself on high alert, set up extra roadblocks. They're afraid of suicide bombings inside Israel. In the Negev town of Starote(ph), a kassam rocket seriously wounded one person. Israeli officials say that at more than 20 kassam rockets have been fired since last night and the announcement of the truce being called off. In Starote, one of the towns closest to the Gaza border that's been a focus for these rocket attacks, schools were closed today. And officials say that Israel has stopped artillery fire until it investigates completely what happened. At the same time, they say air attacks will continue, as it already did today.

HANSEN: This weekend, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that a referendum is going to be held in late July on whether to recognize the existence of Israel. Has there been any reaction in Gaza to that?

GRADSTEIN: The referendum is based on a document that's being called the Prisoners Document that was put together by prisoners in Israeli jails from both Fatah and Hamas. Now, Hamas has now said it does not support this document, that it was a mistake. This document calls for a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, meaning the West Bank and Gaza, and implicitly recognizes Israel. Hamas says it will not participate in the referendum, and it's being seen as a showdown between Hamas and Fatah.

Since the Palestinian elections and the new government which is headed by Hamas, there's been this kind of two-headed situation where you've got this government, headed by Hamas, and then yet you've got Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, from Fatah, and there's been a lot of tension. The tension has erupted into violence, and Palestinians say that here in Gaza many support Hamas. They say they will not participate in this referendum. They're calling on Abbas to call it off, and there is growing tension among Palestinian as well as between Palestinians and Israel.

HANSEN: NPR's Linda Gradstein speaking to us from Gaza. Linda, thank you very much.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you, Liane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.
Linda Gradstein
Linda Gradstein has been the Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990. She is a member of the team that received the Overseas Press Club award for her coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the team that received Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism for her coverage of the Gulf War. Linda spent 1998-9 as a Knight Journalist Fellow at Stanford University.