Hamas Blames Bush Visit for Israeli Crackdown in Gaza

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - A senior Hamas official blamed President Bush's recent visit to the area for an Israeli counter-terrorism operation in the Gaza Strip that left at least 15 Palestinian militants dead, including the son of a Hamas leader.

Hamas claimed responsibility for a cross-border sniper attack from the Gaza Strip that killed a 20-year-old volunteer from Ecuador. He was shot while working in a potato field belonging to an Israeli agricultural community.

Mahmoud al Zahar, who served as the Palestinian Authority's foreign minister when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip last year, blamed Bush for the Israeli military operation in which his son Husam Zahar, 24, was killed. Husam was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers in Gaza. The Israelis went into Gaza early Tuesday morning in an effort to stop the daily rocket fire into Israel.

"This is one of the results of the Bush visit. He encouraged the Israelis to kill our people," Zahar was quoted as saying at his dead son's bedside in a Gaza hospital.

This is the second son that Zahar has lost to Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Zahar's oldest son Khaled was killed in a targeted Israeli air strike on Zahar's home in 2003, following twin suicide bombings at a popular Jerusalem restaurant and crowded hitchhiking station near an army base in Tel Aviv. Hamas had claimed responsibility for both attacks.

In an interview at his home in Gaza two and half years ago, Zahar showed reporters a picture of his dead son's face -- taken shortly after he was killed -- that he kept on his cellular telephone.

Zahar said it was difficult for him to look at the picture but said he drew inspiration from it: "Yes, it is difficult, but because it is difficult, I will put it in my mind in order to bring other sons to be killed from our society," Zahar told Cybercast News Service.

On Tuesday, Zahar vowed to respond to the Israeli incursion "in the appropriate way."

In an apparent reference to America's Arab allies in the region, Zahar said the situation in Gaza should "shame" all the kings, presidents and ministers "who cooperated with Bush, the criminal, and with the Zionists." And he suggested that the Israeli incursion was okay with Abbas and his associates, whom he called "the collaborators with Israel and the spies of America."

Abbas condemned the Israeli incursion as a "massacre" and said that the Palestinians would not "remain silent against such crimes."

Nevertheless, Abbas said that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement was still possible this year.

David Baker, an official in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office, said that talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on core issues in the conflict would continue but Israel would not relent on its counter-terror operations.

"Today we saw the very same type of terror that we must stop," Baker said, referring to the sniper attack that killed the Ecuadorian volunteer.

"These meetings with the Palestinians will continue on their own track. Israel will wage war against all terror, regardless of other developments in the area," Baker said.

The army frequently mounts military operations inside the Gaza Strip to keep terrorists and rocket launching squads away from the fence that separates Israel from Gaza.

The army said it went about a mile into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. The murder of the volunteer is indicative of the threats that residents face all the time, an army spokesman said.

There are some 30,000 residents who live in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip and another 125,000 in the city of Ashkelon, which also has been hit by rocket fire.

At least four rockets hit the southern Israeli town of Sderot on Tuesday, injuring four people and sending more than 10 to the hospital in shock. Police and emergency services are on high alert in Sderot and in areas around the Gaza Strip, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Israeli experts have said it is only a matter of time before Israel will have to mount a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip to destroy the terrorist infrastructure that is thriving there.

Unrelated to the military operation in Gaza on Tuesday, Maj.-General Ido Nechoshtan called the situation in the Gaza Strip "worrying."

Hamas is in control and is building a military capacity while at the same time they are shelling nearby Israeli communities, Nechoshtan said. There's no reason for it, he added, since Israel uprooted 21 Israeli communities and left the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005.

Nechoshtan, who is head of the Israeli Army's Planning Branch, would not discuss any future plans that the army might have for a large-scale military incursion into Gaza.

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