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Middle East

Gaza militants say truce restored

An Israeli soldier walks towards a military vehicle during a patrol along the border with Gaza near Kibbutz Kissufim March 13, 2014. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

GAZA CITY: Gaza's Islamic Jihad announced Thursday that an Egyptian-brokered truce had been restored following a brief but intense confrontation a day earlier when Israeli warplanes pounded the Strip after heavy cross-border rocket fire.

But the truce was being tested after the Israeli military reported than a rocket had been fired from Gaza early in the evening, bringing to four the total over the course of the day.

Even so, that was sharply down on the more than 60 rockets that Israel said had been fired since Wednesday night, and the skies over the Hamas-run Gaza Strip were filled only with driving rain.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the latest rocket fire.

Over the course of 24 hours, Israeli warplanes struck Gaza after militants fired scores of rockets over the border in the worst confrontation since an eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in November 2012.

Although there were no casualties on either side, the violence was denounced by both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and British Prime Minister David Cameron at a news conference in Bethlehem.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her voice.

"I strongly condemn the recent rocket attacks on Israel, for which the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is listed by the EU as a terrorist organisation, has claimed responsibility," she said in a statement

"There can be absolutely no justification for the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians, and I call for an immediate end to such acts."

Behind the scenes, Egypt worked to secure the renewal of a truce agreement to scale back the hostilities, officials in Gaza said.

"An Egyptian-brokered truce went into effect at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT)," Islamic Jihad spokesman Daud Shihab told AFP.

Earlier, Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader, said Egyptian officials had contacted Hamas to "restore the truce" with Israel in force since November 2012.

"The Egyptians are in contact with the movement to restore the truce and stop the Zionist escalation and attack on Gaza," he told AFP.

But an Israeli defence official said he was "not familiar" with any ceasefire arrangement.

"They understand that if the fire continues, the Israeli reaction will be very harsh, and the last thing the Islamic Jihad and Hamas want now is an escalation and deterioration," he told AFP.

Despite the tit-for-tat violence, experts said Israel was not interested in a major confrontation in Gaza.

The confrontation began Tuesday when Islamic Jihad militants fired a mortar at Israeli troops allegedly trying to enter southern Gaza, prompting a retaliatory air strike that killed three of them.

On Wednesday, Islamic Jihad's armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, began firing a coordinated barrage of rockets at southern Israel that continued into the night, with the group putting the number at 130.

Israel responded by hitting 29 targets across Gaza overnight, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas bases. Another seven air strikes on the south followed during the morning.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon blamed both Islamic Jihad and Hamas, saying the latter was responsible for any fire emanating from its territory.

" Hamas is responsible for the Strip and if it does not know how to prevent fire on Israel from its territory, we will act against it and all of its broader interests," Yaalon said.

"Anyone involved in firing on Israel will be taking his life in his own hands."

Abbas, after initially being criticised for blaming the escalation solely on Israel, said Thursday that "we condemn all military escalation including rockets."

In remarks late on Wednesday, he had demanded that Israel "put an end to its military escalation in the besieged Gaza Strip," his spokesman said, drawing a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"How is it possible that he doesn't condemn the firing of rockets at innocent civilians," Netanyahu asked.

"But he did condemn Israel for responding and firing at three terrorists who fired a mortar shell at them," he said, referring to Tuesday's border incident.

As both sides watched the border, experts said developments would depend on Hamas.

" Israel has no intention of entering a major operation now," said Yaakov Amidror, who served as national security adviser until November.

"But if there's a continued response from the other side, the IDF will have to reconsider," he told army radio.

"It depends on the other side's decisions. Hamas is not joining in at this stage, and that's a good thing."

 

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Summary

Gaza's Islamic Jihad announced Thursday that an Egyptian-brokered truce had been restored following a brief but intense confrontation a day earlier when Israeli warplanes pounded the Strip after heavy cross-border rocket fire.

But the truce was being tested after the Israeli military reported than a rocket had been fired from Gaza early in the evening, bringing to four the total over the course of the day.

Over the course of 24 hours, Israeli warplanes struck Gaza after militants fired scores of rockets over the border in the worst confrontation since an eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in November 2012 .

Despite the tit-for-tat violence, experts said Israel was not interested in a major confrontation in Gaza.

The confrontation began Tuesday when Islamic Jihad militants fired a mortar at Israeli troops allegedly trying to enter southern Gaza, prompting a retaliatory air strike that killed three of them.

Israel responded by hitting 29 targets across Gaza overnight, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas bases.


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