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Hamas Breaks Precedent, Condemns Gaza Rocket Fire

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Islamic militant group Hamas made a rare criticism Thursday of Palestinian rocket fire on Israel, saying now is the wrong time as truce talks continue.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, appears to be concerned about disrupting talks for a long-term cease-fire with Israel or reconciliation talks with its West Bank-based moderate rival, Fatah.

Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into southern Israel over the past few years _ which led to Israel's recent three-week offensive in Gaza. But the militant group said Thursday it has not been involved in recent rocket attacks, including two fired Wednesday.

"Regarding the report about rockets fired from Gaza, we emphasize that these rockets have no link to any of the Palestinian resistance groups and are being fired at the wrong time," the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry said. "We emphasize also that the security agencies are following who are behind such acts."

Some 170 rockets have been fired at Israeli towns since Israel ended its Gaza offensive in January, according to the Israeli army, and Israel has responded with airstrikes aimed at militants. Overnight Thursday, Israeli aircraft bombed suspected weapons-smuggling tunnels along Gaza's southern border with Egypt.

Egypt has been trying to mediate a cease-fire since Israel ended its Gaza offensive. The cease-fire deal is expected to include the easing of an Israeli economic blockade of Gaza, as well as a prisoner swap.

Hamas also resumed reconciliation talks with Fatah this week. The two Palestinian groups are now in Cairo for talks on mending a rivalry that has simmered since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip from Fatah in bloody street battles in 2007.

The Western-backed Fatah government of President Mahmoud Abbas rules the West Bank. The Palestinians want both areas, located on opposite sides of Israel, to be part of a future independent state.