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Gaza militants fire rocket into Israel - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinian militants fired a rocket from Gaza on Saturday that landed close to the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon without causing any damages or injury, an Israeli military spokesman said.

Israeli forces and Gaza militants are meant to be refrain from attacking each other, but the fragile cease-fire has been breached several times, making diplomatic efforts to build a lasting truce difficult.

Also Saturday, relations between Turkey and Israel continued to be tense, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasting Israel in an interview for turning the West Bank and Gaza Strip into an “an open-air prison.”

The Israeli military spokesman, who cannot be named according to army regulations, said it was the first rocket fired from Gaza since Thursday.

There was no claim of responsibility from Palestinian militant groups.

Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers stopped fighting in late January after a fierce three-week Israeli offensive meant to halt eight years of near-daily rocket fire from Gaza at southern Israel.

Nearly 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, about half of them civilians, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Thirteen Israelis were also killed, three of them civilians.

Since then, Palestinian militants have fired rockets sporadically toward Israel and killed one soldier on Tuesday. Israel has conducted retaliatory strikes and pounded border tunnels it says Hamas uses to smuggle in weapons from Egypt.

Without a political agreement to anchor the cease-fire, Gaza and Israel’s southern region are expected to continue to be unstable. The biggest winners in the Gaza war, however, appear to be hard-liners on both sides who are likely to continue taking uncompromising positions.

On Friday, top Gaza Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayeh emerged in public for the first time since the war began to declare victory. In Israel, leading hawk Benyamin Netanyahu is the front-runner in elections just a week away.

Hamas has ruled out a long-term cease-fire with Israel if they do not open sealed border crossings with the coastal territory. Israel is unlikely to do so while the militant group rules Gaza, and hold captive Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, seized in a cross-border raid in 2006.

President Barack Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, completed his first visit to Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Friday evening, but little substantive work can be done until Israel completes its elections.

On Saturday, Turkey’s Erdogan criticized Israel for arresting leading Hamas parliamentarians and described the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “an open-air prison” in an interview with the Washington Post.

Erdogan said Israel’s moves provoked Hamas. “You expect them to sit obediently?” he asked in the interview. The Turkish Prime Minister’s frank criticism has come as its relationship with Israel appears to be in a downward spiral.

On Thursday Israeli President Shimon Peres had a heated exchange with Erdogan at a panel discussion in Davos, Switzerland in which he accused the Israelis of killing children.

Later on Friday, Erdogan suggested the high Palestinian civilian death toll in Gaza during Israel’s operation was intentional.

On Saturday, Erdogan said the current Israeli government “should check itself” over its war in Gaza. “They should not exploit this issue for the upcoming elections in Israel,” he said.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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