GAZA CITY (AFP) – Violence simmered around Gaza on Tuesday as Palestinian militants fired a rocket into Israel a day after a deadly air raid, while talks on a long-term truce in the Hamas-run enclave dragged on in Egypt.
The rocket caused damage but no injuries in the town of Ashkelon, 13 kilometres (eight miles) from Gaza’s border, the furthest a rocket has reached inside Israel since the end of an Israel-Hamas war on January 18, medics said.
The strike came as Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was set to visit the battered coastal strip, where on Monday the army carried out a deadly air raid after Israel — which goes to the polls in a week — warned of a harsh response to renewed rocket fire.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, whose ruling centrist Kadima party is trailing in opinion polls to right-wing opposition Likud in the runup to February 10 elections, on Tuesday called for a tough response.
“We have to react hard to this fire, otherwise the dissuasion balance created by our operation in Gaza will be affected,” she told army radio.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak, whose centre-left Labour is shown in the polls to be slipping to fourth-largest party in parliament down from the second spot it currently holds, convened an emergency meeting of military and intelligence chiefs on Tuesday, army radio said.
Monday’s air raid in Gaza killed one Palestinian militant and wounded four other people in a strike on a vehicle carrying fighters in the southern Gaza town of Rafah.
It was the latest incident to further shake the mutual January 18 ceasefires called by the Jewish state and Hamas that ended Israel’s deadly 22-day war on the Islamist rulers of the impoverished coastal strip.
While Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed on Sunday to deal “a severe and disproportionate” response to new rocket fire, Barak was quoted as saying the army had no intention of embarking on a second war in Gaza.
Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, launched on December 27 in response to continuing rocket fire, killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
Since the offensive ended last month, more than 15 rockets have been fired from Gaza, wounding one civilian and two soldiers, Israel says.
Barak said that although most of the rockets were not fired by Hamas, the Islamist movement which is pledged to Israel’s destruction and which has controlled Gaza since June 2007, the group bore responsibility for the attacks.
“We know that most of the fire was not carried out by Hamas but by other small organisations, but Hamas is responsible. Hamas must act to stop this,” he told public radio on Monday.
In Egypt, a Hamas delegation was expected to give its response to a proposal for a long-term truce around Gaza as Cairo continued its efforts to broker a lasting calm around the territory.
On Monday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
In Gaza, Hamas said it favoured a one-year truce on condition that Israel opened the border crossings of the territory that it has kept sealed to all but essential humanitarian goods since mid-2007.
“We agree in principle with a one-year truce,” spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP, but added that Hamas has not ruled out an 18-month truce proposed by the Egyptian mediators.
“Whether one year or a year and a half, it must be linked to the opening of all crossing points, including (the) Rafah (crossing on the Egyptian border), and the lifting of the blockade,” he said.
The ceasefire talks have been complicated by Palestinian factional feuding.
On Sunday, Abbas accused Hamas — which kicked his Fatah forces out of Gaza in a week of deadly clashes in June 2007 — of putting Palestinian lives and their hopes for statehood at risk.
He also accused the Islamists of trying to smash the Palestine Liberation Organisation and said he rejected talks with any group which did not recognise the PLO.
Khaled Meshaal, who heads Hamas’s Damascus-based exiled political leadership, said last week that the PLO had become obsolete and called for “a new national authority.”
The PLO parliament was due to hold an emergency session in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Tuesday following the remarks.