Prisoner exchange fails improve Israel-Palestine relationship

The Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A new round of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants has Gaza’s Hamas rulers caught between reluctance to take on Israel and discomfort with reining in fellow Islamists from smaller, more radical groups involved in the fighting.

The fighting has killed 10 Palestinians and an Israeli, casting doubts on assessments that the recent prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas might improve relations between the bitter foes. Despite the worst bloodshed in months, both sides indicated they were interested in restoring calm.

Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, has avoided direct involvement in the latest burst of fighting.

At the same time, the group, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, remains committed to armed struggle against Israel. Threatened by even more radical rivals in Gaza, Hamas has not criticized anyone for attacking Israel.

Most of the violence this weekend has been between Israel and Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed group that is considered even more extreme than Hamas. Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for attacks from Gaza, and there is little doubt that Hamas’ control — when it wants to exercise it — is strong.

In the latest violence, an Israeli airstrike hit a pair of militants in Gaza on Sunday as they prepared to fire a rocket into Israel, the military said. Gaza’s Health Ministry said one man was killed and a second was wounded.The fighting Sunday came a day after eight Palestinian militants and an Israeli civilian were killed. It took place as Egyptian mediators were trying to broker a truce. Egypt, which borders Gaza to the south, brokered this months’ prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas.

That deal has raised speculation that the two enemies might somehow create a working relationship despite their rejection of each other, perhaps with Israel easing its blockade on Gaza. Israel says the closure — which enables basic goods to get in through Israel’s border and does not affect Gaza’s border with Egypt — is needed to halt arms smuggling.