Truce restored: Gaza militants

 14 Mar 2014 - 5:12


Palestinian medics tend to a man wounded in an Israeli air strike, at a hospital in Rafah in southern Gaza Strip.

GAZA CITY: Gaza’s Islamic Jihad yesterday announced an Egyptian-brokered truce following a brief but intense confrontation a day earlier when Israeli warplanes pounded the Palestinian territory after heavy cross-border rocket fire. 
But the truce was being tested after the Israeli military reported further rocket fire from Gaza during the evening, hours after the truce had been slated to take effect.
An army spokesman said that a total of seven rockets hit Israeli soil yesterday. An eighth was launched but brought down by the Iron Dome missile defence system. 
Altogether five rockets were fired from Gaza after the 1200 GMT deadline given by Islamic Jihad for the truce to take hold.
It was still sharply down compared to at least 60 fired between Wednesday evening and midnight.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the latest rocket fire, but Gaza security sources linked what appeared to be a failed rocket attempt last night to a Salafist splinter group.
They said they may have been behind the explosion of a locally-made projectile in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun that injured five members of the same family, including a woman aged 55 and two children.
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 in November 2012 between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas which rules Gaza.
Although there were no casualties on either side, the violence was denounced by both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and British Prime Minister David Cameron at a news conference in the West Bank town of 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.”
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. 
But an Israeli defence official said he was “not familiar” with any ceasefire arrangement.
The confrontation began on 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.
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.
Abbas, after initially being criticised for blaming the escalation solely on Israel, said yesterday that “we condemn all military escalation including rockets.”