Hamas Marks One Year since Gaza Operation

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JEBALIYA, Gaza Strip - Fewer than 3,000 Palestinians showed up at a rally marking the one-year anniversary of Israel's three-week military incursion in the Gaza Strip, a sharp contrast with the tens of thousands at many Hamas rallies.

Despite heavy advertising by the Palestinian faction controlling the Strip, the sparse turnout may reflect growing discontent with Hamas.

"We are the victors. We are the fighters. We are the steadfast," senior Hamas official Khalil al-Haya told the crowd.

Israel launched Operation Cast Lead to put an end to daily rocket bombardment by Gaza-based Palestinians on southern Israeli communities.

In the formerly rocket-battered city of Sderot, Atara Orenbuch, 37, mother of seven children, said her two youngest still feel more secure sleeping in the bomb shelter after years of living under the threat of incoming rockets.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, said Operation Cast Lead made a big difference for residents in the South.

"For the first time in years, the children of southern Israel can grow up without the constant fear of an incoming rocket and running to the nearest bomb shelter," Regev said.

Meanwhile, at Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commended the Israel Defense Forces for tracking down the terrorists who murdered Rabbi Avshalom Chai on Thursday.

"I would like to commend the ISA [the Shin Bet] and the IDF for the quick operation against the cell that murdered Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai. Our policy against terrorism is clear. We will continue to respond aggressively - against any attack on Israeli citizens and against any firing of rockets or missiles at Israeli territory," Netanyahu said.

Chai, 45, a teacher and father of seven from the northern Samarian town of Shavei Shomron, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The funeral took place on the Mount of Olives on Friday.

On Saturday, IDF special forces surrounded the homes of Raed Sarkaji, 38, Ghassan Abu Sharekh, 39, and Anan Tzubach, 40, and called on them to surrender. All three - senior operatives in Fatah's al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades - were killed in the raid.

In a statement released on Sunday, the IDF confirmed that the weapons confiscated in Saturday's operation were used to kill Chai.

"A ballistic analysis shows that the weapons found in the house of the terrorist Anan Tzubach in Nablus the morning of December 26th were the ones used to murder Meir Avshalom Chai.


The Associated Press and The Jerusalem Post contributed to this report.

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