JERUSALEM -- In the first deadly Palestinian attack on Israelis in nearly a month, two Palestinians stormed an Israeli army post near the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, killing four soldiers before being shot dead in a gunbattle, the military said.
The attack, claimed by the Islamic militant Hamas group, dealt a severe blow to U.S. truce efforts. Earlier this week, a U.S. mediator had left the region on a hopeful note, saying both sides were working toward a truce after a lull of several weeks.
The four soldiers killed Wednesday were members of the Israeli army's Desert Reconnaissance Battalion, made up almost entirely of Bedouin Arabs.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he was sticking to the truce, and the Palestinian Authority issued a statement condemning the attack.
However, Israeli army chief Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz held Arafat's government responsible, saying the incident proved "beyond any doubt that the Palestinian Authority is not fighting against the infrastructure of terrorism."
Israel's security Cabinet met for three hours Wednesday morning, and Israel TV quoted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as telling the ministers that Israel would stick to the principle of retaliating for every attack.
Hassan Yousef, a Hamas leader in the West Bank, said the group resumed attacks -- despite a public pledge last month to observe a truce -- because of what he said was continued Israeli aggression against Palestinians.
The drop-off in violence had encouraged Zinni to launch his latest mission. The last deadly Palestinian attack on Israelis was Dec. 12 when a Hamas member opened fire on an Israeli bus, killing 10 passengers and wounding 30. Four days later, acting under growing international pressure, Arafat declared a halt to all attacks.
Since then, there has been a sharp drop in Palestinian violence. Mortar fire stopped, and there were only sporadic shootings. The Palestinian security forces also rounded up dozens of members of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group.
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