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New Gaza violence puts Hamas in bind

A new round of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants has Gaza's Hamas rulers caught between reluctance to take on Israel and discomfort with reining in fellow Islamists from smaller, more radical groups involved in the fighting.

The fighting has killed 10 Palestinians and an Israeli, casting doubts on assessments that the recent prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas might improve relations between the bitter foes. Despite the worst bloodshed in months, both sides indicated they were interested in restoring calm.

Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, has avoided direct involvement in the latest burst of fighting. Hamas lost hundreds of men in a fierce Israeli offensive against rocket squads three years ago and has largely maintained calm since then.

At the same time, the group, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, remains committed to armed struggle against Israel. Threatened by even more radical rivals in Gaza, Hamas has not criticized anyone for attacking Israel.

"The Palestinian resistance has the full right to defend itself against the Zionist crimes against the Gaza Strip," Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official, told the group's website.

Most of the violence over the weekend was between Israel and Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed group that is considered even more extreme than Hamas.

In the latest violence, an Israeli airstrike hit a pair of militants in Gaza on Sunday as they prepared to fire a rocket into Israel, the military said. Gaza's Health Ministry said one man was killed and a second was wounded. Just before nightfall, Gaza militants fired another rocket into southern Israel that landed in an open area and caused no injuries or damage, the army said.

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