Militants fire rocket from Gaza Strip into Israel

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

JERUSALEM -- Militants fired a rocket from the Gaza Strip at Israel on Wednesday, a first since a Palestinian unity government headed by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas was put in charge of Gaza — at least formally — after seven years of Hamas rule.

No one was hurt, but Israel has warned it would hold Abbas responsible for any attacks from Gaza after he established a technocrat government last week. The 17-member Cabinet is to administer both Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Hamas, which remains the de facto power in Gaza, backs the unity government but has no members in it.

Abbas' office condemned the rocket fire and urged Gaza militants to abide by previous cease-fire deals with Israel.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the condemnation as "empty rhetoric," saying Abbas should instead keep earlier pledges to disarm Gaza's militants.

Those militants, including members of Hamas, have fired thousands of rockets at Israel over the years, though Hamas mostly observed an informal truce in recent years. The West considers Hamas a terror group because of scores of deadly attacks on Israel, though Abbas has said the new Cabinet will follow his pragmatic program.

Israel's deputy defense minister, Danny Danon, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to retaliate for Wednesday's rocket attack by withholding transfers of taxes Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

"This rocket fire is the direct result of the Hamas-supported government" Danon said.

The unity government was meant to end a crippling split between Abbas and Hamas, but the road to reconciliation has been bumpy, with many issues unresolved.

Salary payments for more than 40,000 government employees hired by Hamas during the past seven years are a key point of contention. Hamas wants them to be paid by the unity government, though donor countries would likely balk at the idea of seeing aid go for salaries for members of the Hamas security forces.

Hamas kept Gaza's banks closed for the past week in an attempt to pressure Abbas to find a solution, but allowed the banks to reopen Wednesday amid rising public anger against the group. Long lines formed at cash machines as people rushed to withdraw their salaries.

Tens of thousands of Abbas loyalists who worked for his Palestinian Authority in Gaza before the Hamas takeover have continued to receive salaries since 2007 on condition they not work for the Hamas administration.

Hamas officials said no solution to the problem has been found and suggested the opening of the banks is temporary.

Meanwhile, Palestinian protesters in the West Bank found a timely way to show support for dozens of Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli jails. A day before the start of the World Cup in Brazil, they dressed up in the jerseys of the Palestinian football team and kicked a ball around outside Ofer, an Israeli lockup in the West Bank.

A group of helmeted soldiers prevented them from advancing. Troops fired stun grenades and pushed some of the protesters who dribbled and kicked the ball over the heads of soldiers.

Some of the Palestinian prisoners began their hunger strike on April 24, with others joining later, and more than 70 have been hospitalized. The hunger strikes demand that Israel end the practice of administrative detention in which nearly 200 Palestinians are currently held without charges.

Also Wednesday, pathologists performed an autopsy on the exhumed body of a 17-year-old Palestinian who was killed May 15 during a lull in a confrontation between Israeli troops and Palestinian stone-throwers.

The Israeli rights group B'Tselem said at the time that security camera footage and witness testimony raised grave suspicions he was killed in a wilful shooting.

Nawara's body was exhumed early Wednesday and taken to a Palestinian forensics institute. The autopsy was conducted by the chief Palestinian pathologist, but was also attended by two Israeli pathologists and two from abroad, said Sarit Michaeli of B'Tselem. (AP)

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