Israel mounts new air strikes, Hamas ends attacks

Israel launched multiple missile strikes in Gaza on Monday, hours after the main Palestinian militant group said it would stop attacking the Jewish state following Israeli air raids in response to rocket attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faced a vote in his Likud party that threatened his leadership because of a rightist challenge to his withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza. A stormy eve-of-vote session on Sunday underlined party splits.

The worst surge of violence since Israel's pullout from Gaza on September 12 after 38 years of occupation put pressure on a shaky cease-fire and on Sharon at the weekend.

While Hamas the most powerful Palestinian militant group said it was halting attacks, not all militant factions have followed suit.

Israeli aircraft attacked at least five targets across the Gaza Strip early on Monday. One woman was lightly wounded by shrapnel in a strike in the north of the territory.

The army said the raids targeted buildings used for making or storing weapons by Hamas, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It said 50 Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants were arrested in the West Bank, reports Reuters.

According to Guardian, the violence began on Friday after an explosion at a Hamas rally in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza. A rocket displayed on a pickup truck fell off and exploded, detonating two others. Twenty people died and more than 100 were injured.

Hamas denied responsibility, blamed Israel and fired 39 Qassam rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, injuring several people. On Saturday, Israeli aircraft fired rockets at two cars killing four people, claiming they were carrying Hamas weapons and fighters.

Yesterday's offensive prompted a senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, to order an end to rocket attacks from the group. "We call on our military groups to stop their operations against the enemy from the Gaza Strip," he said.

Critics of Mr Sharon argued that the barrage of rockets was proof that Israel had not enhanced its security by withdrawing from Gaza.

Tawfiq Abu Housa, a Palestinian interior ministry spokesman, said there was no doubt that Hamas had been the cause of the Jabalia accident and it should take responsibility for it. "I would much prefer to blame Israel but we are trying to deal with the truth. We will lose credibility if we do not take responsibility for our mistakes. The attacks on Israel were just a way of covering up their mistake which has caused big problems for many people."

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