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Hamas leader asks militants not to attack crossings

Written by: Staff

GAZA, May 2 (Reuters) Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh appealed for the first time today to militants not to launch attacks against border crossings needed to bring vital humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip.

Haniyeh's call to exclude border crossings from attacks came nearly a week after Palestinian security forces said they seized an explosives-laden car near the Karni commercial crossing on the border with Israel after exchanging fire with its occupants.

''I stress the need to protect the vital interests of the Palestinian people, including the crossings that represent the veins and the lungs of the Palestinian people,'' Haniyeh said at the beginning of a cabinet meeting.

''All should stay far away, as much as possible, from the crossings, the gateways to the outside world, and avoid creating any disruptions ... so that our private sector, the ministries and the government can continue to be able to bring in the needs of our people,'' he said.

Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, has in the past launched attacks against the crossing.

The Islamic militant group has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, but has largely abided by a year-old ceasefire.

Last month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered his presidential guard to take control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, averting the pullout of European monitors after Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority.

US and European officials want the presidential guard to take the lead in guarding all of Gaza's crossings, replacing forces that answer to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

The United States and Israel are shunning the Hamas-led government, including the security services which fall under its jurisdiction.

International envoy James Wolfensohn, in his final report to the Quartet of Middle East mediators, said Karni has been closed 50 percent of the days it was scheduled to operate because of Israeli security concerns.

Export volumes at the crossing have averaged just 23 truckloads per day, far short of the 150 truckloads per day called for in an agreement brokered by the United States in November to increase trade with Gaza.

Reuters CH GC1837

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