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Hamas continues rocket barrage from southern Gaza strip

Special to World
Monday, June 16, 2003

TEL AVIV Hamas is said to be searching for new Israeli targets for the movement's short-range Kassam missile.

Hamas gunners have been firing toward the ranch of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon near the Gaza Strip. The Kassam-2 missiles have fallen short of the ranch but struck nearby farms.

On Sunday, Hamas fired five Kassam-2 missiles into Israel. Two of the missiles landed in the southern Israeli city of Sderot.

For the first time, officials said, Hamas has fired Kassam missiles from the southern Gaza Strip. They said this could be in response to Israeli military operations in northern Gaza.

Israeli defense officials said Hamas has extended the range of the Kassam. They said the Kassam-2 can now reach a range of 10 kilometers while Hamas has developed the Kassam-3 and is working on the Kassam-4.

Hamas's goal, the officials said, is to develop a missile with a range of 20 kilometers. This would allow Islamic insurgents to target the city of Ashkelon and the nearby power station -- both located north of the Gaza Strip.

In the West Bank, Israeli special operations forces captured three leading Palestinian insurgents in the Bethlehem region. One of the insurgents captured was Issa Beitat, 31, regarded as the leader of Islamic Jihad in Bethlehem. He was said to have ordered numerous suicide attacks in Jerusalem.

A high-level delegation of Egyptian security officials arrived in Gaza City on Sunday to arrange for a reconciliation between Hamas and the PA. The delegation was led by Mustafa Buheiri, an aide to Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman. The delegation was said to have offered Hamas a proposal for a six-month ceasefire in attacks on Israel.

On Monday, PA International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath said a Palestinian ceasefire would be announced on Tuesday. Shaath was the second PA minister in as many days who asserted that a temporary ceasefire with Israel was imminent.

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