By DIAA HADID and IBRAHIM BARZAK
Associated Press Writers
¶ GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Masked Palestinian gunmen practice capturing Israeli soldiers, training videos show how to make grenades and rocket squads fire daily at Israeli border towns.
¶ It looks like a warmup for battle.
¶ Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers say a six-month cease-fire with Israel formally ends Friday, and Hamas and smaller armed groups won't say clearly whether they will extend it. The vagueness, and rocket fire, could be signs of a new round of fighting, or merely a negotiating tactic to pressure Israel.
¶ Under the truce, Gaza militants were to halt rocket fire on Israeli border communities. Israel was to end raids on Gaza and allow more goods and people through its border crossings, sealed after Hamas overran the territory in June 2007.
¶ While the Egyptian-brokered truce has brought a drop in violence, neither side is entirely happy. Israel notes the rocket fire hasn't ended, while Palestinians complain the truce didn't benefit Gaza, mainly because the crossings haven't been opened, leading to widespread shortages of basic goods.
¶ "We aren't encouraged," said Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader.
¶ Hamas says the deal expires Friday, but Israel says the unwritten agreement had no expiration date.
¶ The truce has increasingly unraveled since early November, when Israeli forces entered Gaza to destroy a tunnel that could have been used in a cross-border raid. In response, Palestinian militants resumed firing rockets at Israel.
¶ At least 20 rockets were fired at Israel on Wednesday, the military said. One exploded in the border town of Sderot, wounding two people and damaging a restaurant, police said.
¶ "There can't be a situation where there is a truce, but the situation on the ground is very different," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "This demands that we address it," he added, stopping short of pledging retaliation.
¶ Israel has renewed airstrikes against rocket squads, aiming at launchers in northern Gaza on Wednesday, the military said. Palestinian hospital officials said a 47-year-old man was killed when a missile hit his house and a balcony collapsed on him.
¶ "In the end, the test is the calm and the benefit the residents have had for long months, even though it is relative calm," said Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official who helped negotiate the truce.
¶ Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said this week the deal would not be extended, while Gaza's Hamas bosses insist no decision on an extension has been made.
¶ Both sides are jockeying for better terms.
¶ Israel wants to be able to enter Gaza to prevent attacks. Hamas wants Israel to open the border crossings.
¶ Even before the truce began fraying, Israel did not allow free transfer of goods in and out of Gaza. Since the rocket fire resumed in November, Israel has kept the borders virtually sealed, allowing in only minimal humanitarian aid.
¶ Still, the lull has been a relief for people on both sides of the border. A poll Tuesday indicated that 74 percent of Palestinians and 51 percent of Israelis want to extend the cease-fire.
¶ The number of casualties and rocket attacks dropped sharply after the truce took hold.
¶ From January to June, 338 Palestinians and 16 Israelis were killed in cross-border violence, according to Associated Press figures. Since the truce took effect, 21 Palestinians, most of them militants, were killed by Israeli fire. No Israelis were killed.
¶ Israel's military says 1,786 rockets were fired in the first half of 2008, compared to around 199 in the second.
¶ During the truce, Hamas has been smuggling weapons through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. Hamas militants are also believed to be burrowing tunnels into Israel to carry out attacks.
¶ Through the summer, Hamas ran military-style camps for youngsters, and the smaller Islamic Jihad has been practicing tracking down Israel soldiers. In Islamic Jihad training videos obtained by the AP, gunmen captured mock Israeli soldiers hiding in a burned out building and demonstrated how to make grenades and rockets.
¶ Israel has the region's most powerful army and would likely be able to retake Gaza quickly. However, Israeli leaders are hesitant to order a major ground offensive, because they fear high casualties on both sides.