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Smoke rises from a Hamas site after it was hit by an Israeli air strike in the East of Gaza City, yesterday.
GAZA City/JERUSALEM: Gaza’s Hamas rulers yesterday said they would not consider a truce with Israel for now, as Israeli planes pounded Gaza and militants fired hundreds of rockets into the Jewish state.
“We will not be exposed to further tricks by the occupation. We consider talk of a truce at this time an attempt to provide more cover for the continuation of the escalation on Gaza,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said at a press conference. “Talk of a truce is another attempt by the occupation at deception,” he said, adding that “the enemy started an open war on our people and our resistance in Gaza.”
His remarks appeared to rule out any hopes of a quick end to a surge of violence that began with an Israeli targeted killing of top Hamas field commander Ahmed Jaabari on Wednesday.
Since that strike, Israel has carried out at least 150 raids across the Gaza Strip, killing 15 Palestinians, at least seven of them Hamas militants.
In the same period, more than 200 rockets were at Israel, killing three people and injuring 16, police and medics said.
Israel’s massive air campaign, which began with the targeted killing of top Hamas commander Ahmed Jaabari on Wednesday afternoon, sparked a furious response from Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Mursi, who promptly recalled Cairo’s envoy to the Jewish state.
Yesterday, Mursi - who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood movement that gave birth to the Hamas movement - warned that Egypt would not accept Israel’s “aggression” in the Gaza Strip.
“The Israelis must understand that we do not accept this aggression, which could lead to instability in the region,” Mursi said in televised remarks, as Israeli air forces pummelled Gaza and militants fired rockets back in a deadly tit-for-tat confrontation.
“Shortly before dawn, I called President Obama and we discussed the need to put an end to this aggression and to ensure it does not happen again,” he said.
“We discussed ways to promote calm and to stop these acts... and to achieve peace and security.”
“I explained Egypt’s role, Egypt’s position, that we have relations with the United States and the world, but at the same time we totally reject this aggression.”
On Wednesday, Mursi also ordered the foreign ministry to summon the Israeli envoy over the attacks, and called for an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers, which is slated to be held in Cairo on Saturday.
Israel’s threat to reprise its Gaza invasion of four years ago if its air strikes against Hamas do not end rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave masks important differences between then and now.
Two days into the assault, the absence of the saturated aerial bombing seen at the start of the last Gaza war in 2008 suggested the Israelis were not yet carving safer access points for ground troops.
A cabinet statement on Wednesday spoke only of “improving” national security - acknowledgement that the government has no illusions about crushing the militants once and for all.
The disparity in scale and pace with its offensive in 2008 reveals much about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s delicate position.
Israel’s previous, centrist government enjoyed broad support in the West and, tacitly, among US-aligned Arab powers. By contrast, the hawkish Netanyahu’s listless peacemaking with Hamas’ moderate Palestinian rivals has raised hackles in Europe and Washington, and he faces an ever-more hostile Middle East.
Though opinion polls favour Netanyahu for Israel’s January 22 election, that lead could bleed should soldiers end up in protracted house-to-house combat in Gaza’s warren-like towns. “In Israel, popular support for a military campaign can be transient,” Yoaz Hendel, a military affairs commentator and former Netanyahu spokesman, said. “I can’t see a long-term reoccupation of Gaza taking place before the ballot.”