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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Retaliates as Jihad Scraps Truce

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said Thursday it was scrapping a deal with Yasser Arafat not to mount attacks in Israel, opening the way to fresh violence and dealing a blow to U.S. peace efforts.

The group announced its decision one day after its fellow militant Islamic group, Hamas, shattered a three-week lull in 15 months of violence by killing four Israeli soldiers in a raid on a military post in southern Israel.

U.S. officials said there was a compelling case against senior Palestinian officials over an arms-laden ship seized by Israel. One said there were strong suspicions Arafat knew of the shipment, but he and other Palestinian leaders deny any involvement.

Israeli army bulldozers razed dozens of homes and other buildings in the southern Gaza Strip earlier Thursday in response to the Hamas raid, and demolished two Palestinian security posts on Gaza's border with Israel on Wednesday.

Many people were left homeless, searching for their belongings through huge piles of rubble, twisted metal, wood and broken furniture at the rainswept and muddy Rafah refugee camp.

"We in the Jerusalem Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad in Palestine, announce that starting from today, we will not adhere to the understanding with ... the [Palestinian] Authority and its security services," the group said.

A senior Islamic Jihad official said the group would "not necessarily" resume the attacks, halted under understandings reached after a Dec. 16 cease fire call made by Arafat under international pressure.

But the official added, without giving details: "There is no justification to keep our hands tied behind our backs as [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon is continuing his massacres against us."

Islamic Jihad said it was abandoning the deal because Israel was still killing Palestinians.

U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who is trying to secure implementation of a truce-to-talks plan, said this week he saw positive signs after the longest lull in violence since the Palestinians began an uprising against Israeli occupation.

But those hopes have been set back by the Hamas attack Wednesday and by the shipment of 50 tons of munitions that Israel seized in the Red Sea last week and said had been bound for the Palestinians.

"From the information provided by the Israelis, we would strongly suspect that Arafat knew about the shipment," a senior U.S. official said in Washington.

U.S. President George W. Bush expressed concern about the surge in violence Wednesday. A White House spokesman said it was "particularly disturbing because it came at a time when the situation on the ground had been relatively quiet."

Islamic Jihad and Hamas froze their attacks in Israel after Arafat's appeal Dec. 16, but relations have been strained by the Authority's crackdown on the groups' members. The Authority has closed offices used by the groups and arrested some of their members, although Israel says it has not done enough to rein in the militants.

The Palestinian Authority condemned Wednesday's raid in southern Israel. But Sharon blamed Arafat for the attack.

Witnesses said army bulldozers and tanks rumbled into the Rafah refugee camp, scaring Palestinians out of homes which were then demolished. The army said the homes had been used to fire at its soldiers and for smuggling arms.

The witnesses said the bulldozers razed about 30 buildings, but Isa Qarra, an official with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said as many as 45 homes may have been destroyed. The army gave no figure.