Israeli-Palestinian Ceasefire Nears Collapse Israeli officials are threatening a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip following a week of renewed violence between Israelis and Palestinians. In the latest attacks Sunday, an Israeli sniper shoots and kills a Hamas leader in Gaza and Palestinian rocket and mortar fire on southern Israel continue.

Israeli-Palestinian Ceasefire Nears Collapse

Israeli-Palestinian Ceasefire Nears Collapse

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Israeli officials are threatening a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip following a week of renewed violence between Israelis and Palestinians. In the latest attacks Sunday, an Israeli sniper shoots and kills a Hamas leader in Gaza and Palestinian rocket and mortar fire on southern Israel continue.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The five-month old Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire is teetering on the brink of collapse. Israeli officials are threatening a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip following a week of renewed violence in the region. A suicide bombing last Tuesday in Netanya killed five Israelis. It was the first such blast on Israeli soil since February. Israel responded with air strikes against Gaza, killing seven Hamas militants. Today, an Israeli sniper shot dead a Hamas leader in Gaza, and Palestinian rocket and mortar fire on southern Israel continued. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today said he had instructed the army, quote, "to act without limitation to stop the strikes on Israeli communities." The chief of staff told the Cabinet the army is ready for a massive invasion of Gaza. Israeli officials say they're giving Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas one last chance to stop the rocket and mortar fire. The officials say that fire must stop before Israel begins its planned withdrawal from Gaza next month. An Israeli army spokesman said that since Thursday, Palestinians have fired at least 40 Qassam rockets and 70 mortars at Jewish settlements in Gaza and at southern Israel. One Israeli woman was killed. At the same time, Israeli air strikes killed seven Hamas militants Friday.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said an Israeli invasion of Gaza would, quote, "have disastrous results on Israel's upcoming pullback and on the peace process as a whole." Abbas yesterday urged Hamas to halt attacks on Israel and to return to the five-month-old cease-fire. Palestinian police have tried in the past few days to prevent rocket and mortar fire, and two teen-agers were killed Friday in gun battles between Hamas and Palestinian police, raising fears of a Palestinian civil war. Later this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is making a previously unscheduled trip to the region to try to get both sides to return to the cease-fire.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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