GAZA (Reuters) -Egypt stepped in on Wednesday to try to restore Hamas’s truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip after the Islamist group’s armed wing fired rockets into Israeli territory and declared the ceasefire dead.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert summoned cabinet members to weigh a response to Tuesday’s rocket attacks on southern Israel, the first since Hamas agreed to halt such strikes last November.
Hamas’s Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades said it fired the rockets, on Israel’s 59th Independence Day, in retaliation for Israel’s killing of nine Palestinians in recent raids against militants in the occupied West Bank.
A Palestinian official said an Egyptian security team held separate meetings with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group and stressed the need to restore calm to avoid giving Israel a pretext to mount a military operation in the Gaza Strip.
An Israeli military spokesman said eight rockets were launched on Tuesday, and two landed near a southern town. He said two rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza on Wednesday. There were no reports of casualties in any of the attacks.
The Israeli military recently completed a training program to ready ground forces for an offensive against militants in the territory should the government give the green light, Israeli security sources said.
But an Israeli political source said Olmert, his popularity flagging since last year’s inconclusive Lebanon war, was not leaning towards a massive operation at this time, although approval could be given for “targeted killings” of militants.
An official inquiry into the 34-day conflict with Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas and the military’s preparedness for war in the north is due to release its interim findings next week.
“A wider operation (in Gaza) will be carried out only when it is clear that the benefit is greater than the damage that will result,” Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh told Army Radio.
“There is no calm between us and the (Israeli) occupation. The occupation ended the calm,” Abu Ubaida, spokesman for the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said after Tuesday’s rocket attacks.
The Hamas-led Palestinian government, however, said it was interested in maintaining the Gaza ceasefire.
The truce does not cover the West Bank, where the Israeli military mounts frequent raids against militant groups it says are constantly planning attacks inside Israel.
“If the occupation (Israel) … stops all assassinations, violence, arrests and raids against our people, Hamas will consider an enduring calm in liaison with other factions, as a collective position,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
Barhoum said a final decision could be made after the factions hold another meeting, later in the day, with the Egyptian delegation.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose secular Fatah faction formed a governing coalition with Hamas last month, called the rocket strikes “an exceptional event that will not last.”
Speaking at a news conference in Rome on Tuesday, Abbas urged Israel to show “self-control” and head off escalation.