Gaza tensions continue as mediators seek to clear the air

Gaza tensions continue as mediators seek to clear the air
A Hamas-affiliated Palestinian militant walks through a training complex in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. (Said Khatib / AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — An Islamist militant group said Thursday that it had agreed to a cease-fire after an intense round of rocket attacks on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip and retaliatory airstrikes by Israel's military. But several more rockets fell on Israel, according to Israeli media reports.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Daud Shihab said a cease-fire had been reached through Egyptian mediation and that both sides were committed to it. Israeli officials denied any dialogue with the militants but said calm would be met with calm.


The militant group launched an hours-long attack on Wednesday, firing more than 100 rockets into Israel, which retaliated with warplanes that targeted 29 sites throughout Gaza overnight. The attacks began a day after the Israeli army killed three militants and three civilians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

On Thursday morning more rockets were fired, some reaching up to 18 miles into Israel. Israel's military announced its air force had struck seven sites affiliated with militants.

After holding security consultations overnight with defense officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security Cabinet Thursday for discussions on the abrupt escalation.

During a meeting with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron, Netanyahu said Israel's policy regarding Gaza was clear: "We will strike at anyone who tries to attack us and will respond very forcefully to any attack."

Netanyahu advised Gaza militants to "internalize" that they are dealing with "a very determined government and a very strong military."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an end to the escalation, blaming Israel for the rise in tension initiated by what he described as the "cold-blooded" Israeli army killing on Tuesday of three Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip and three other Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.

During a news conference with Cameron in Bethlehem, Abbas said, "We did not hear any condemnation or apology for these acts from the Israeli government."

Abbas also said that he "condemns the aggression and condemns the military escalation in all its forms, including the rockets."

Abbas plans to meet with President Obama in Washington next week to focus on efforts to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel. Netanyahu met with Obama two weeks ago.

As rockets rained on southern Israel, parents hastened to pull children out of school in Ashkelon and Ashdod, while local mayors consulted security officials regarding public safety in planned events celebrating the upcoming holiday of Purim.

Egypt has long played a role mediating over Gaza attacks, brokering informal understandings to end rounds of fighting between Israel and Palestinian groups in Hamas-ruled Gaza. This time, however, Egypt appears to have circumvented Hamas and negotiated with Islamic Jihad.

Egypt has increasingly turned a cold shoulder to Hamas in Gaza, blocking smuggling tunnels between the strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Last week a Cairo court outlawed Hamas activity in Egypt.

Special correspondent Sobelman reported from Jerusalem and Abukhater from Ramallah.