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Gaza Blast Undermines Peace

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The new Palestinian leadership is not doing enough to restrain militants, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday, after attackers blew up an Israeli army outpost in Gaza and killed five soldiers.

It was the first time Sharon has criticized interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas since the death of Yasser Arafat, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger.

Militants set off a ton and a half of explosives in a tunnel under an Israeli army post in Gaza Sunday. Then gunmen opened fire on the base, as the Israeli were evacuated, and there was a second explosion an hour later. Hamas and another militant group, the Fatah Hawks, claimed responsibility.

The Islamic militant group Hamas and gunmen with ties to the ruling Fatah movement claimed responsibility for the attack they dubbed "Operation Angry Volcano." It's an embarrassment for Israel, reports Berger. Hamas said it had dug an 800-yard-long tunnel over four months to reach the outpost, right under the nose of the army.

The attack threatens efforts by both sides to revive peace talks. But powerful Islamic militant groups oppose the peace process, and they've shown once again that they have an agenda of their own.

The attack at sundown Sunday was seen as a challenge to Abbas, who has been trying to persuade militants to halt attacks on Israelis ahead of Palestinian presidential elections Jan. 9. Abbas has criticized the armed Palestinian uprising and enjoys the support of the international community.

Hamas has not given Abbas any guarantees. However, it has limited its attacks to the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, as part of what appears to be a tacit agreement not to carry out bombings inside Israel.

Hamas and other militants have stepped up attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers in Gaza in recent months, as part of an internal Palestinian power struggle ahead of the planned Israeli withdrawal from the strip in 2005.

Israel plans to call up 10,000 reservists starting next May to help with the pullout, the Jerusalem Post reported. In general, reservists will not be used to carry out the actual evacuations, which begin in July.

Sharon said Monday that progress in peace efforts "depends on the Palestinians, if they will act against terror."

"By now, we don't see any change," Sharon said, speaking in English.

"Myself and my government would like to move forward toward peace, but it depends on one thing, that it should be quiet and I'm really sorry to say that by now we don't see any changes," he added.

Israel has not said whether it will freeze the possible release of up to 200 Palestinian prisoners. In a first response, Israeli helicopters fired five missiles early Monday at what the army said were Hamas weapons workshops in Gaza City. There were no casualties.

Palestinian leaders did not condemn the bombing; attacks on Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza are widely considered legitimate by Palestinians, including those who oppose shootings and bombings inside Israel.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said during a visit to Kuwait that he presumed the bombing came in retaliation for Israeli tank fire that wounded seven Palestinian school children on Sunday. However, some of the militants said they attacked the outpost to what they alleged was Israel's role in Arafat's death.

The five soldiers killed Sunday were identified as Bedouin Arabs, all members of Desert Reconnaissance Battalion. The battalion, which consists largely of Bedouins, patrols the Egypt-Gaza border, one of the most dangerous areas during more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Five soldiers were wounded in the double blast, which brought down several structures in the outpost. After the initial explosion, Palestinian gunmen rushed the base, followed by another, smaller blast. A gunman who escaped said he tried to kidnap a wounded soldier, but killed him because the soldier resisted.

The preparations for the attack and the explosion were filmed by Hamas, a method used in the past by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, which is increasingly training and funding Palestinian militants.

The Hamas video showed masked men lowering barrels presumably containing the explosives into the tunnel. Another shot showed a huge black plume of smoking rising into the air.

The Israeli military said Monday that the tunnels have emerged as a major threat against troops in Gaza, and that there is no easy way to detect them.

Palestinian smugglers have been digging tunnels in Gaza for decades. During the current round of fighting, tunnels have been used increasingly to smuggle weapons into Gaza and also to attack outposts.

Maj. Sharon Feingold, an Israeli army spokeswoman, said the military has spend millions of dollars on technology aimed at detecting tunnels, so far to no avail. "So now the army is using low-teach means, intelligence and searches for houses where the tunnels start," she said. "It's a strategic problem for the state of Israel."