JERUSALEM, AP -Israel has suspended its offensive into the Gaza Strip following a lull in rocket fire by Palestinian militants, but it is ready to restart the operation if attacks resume, the army said on Sunday.
The operation, which included a series of airstrikes on weapons factories, storage facilities and launching areas, achieved its goal of weakening militants” ability to attack Israel from Gaza, the army said. Militants have not fired rockets into Israel since last Tuesday, it added.
"Just because there have not been attacks does not mean there will not be more," said army spokeswoman Capt. Yael Hartmann. "We will continue the operation when we see the need to rein in possible attacks."
The renewed violence came just weeks after Israel completed its withdrawal from Gaza after 38 years of occupation. The pullout had raised hopes around the world that peace talks could soon resume.
The fighting erupted after an explosion at a rally by the Islamic group Hamas in Gaza killed 21 people on Sept. 23. Hamas blamed Israel for the blast, even though Palestinian officials said the explosion was caused by the militants” own mishandling of explosives. Hamas then fired several dozen rockets into southern Israeli towns.
Israel responded with its offensive, killing four militants and damaging numerous buildings it said were used for weapons storage and production.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad last week both declared a halt to the rocket fire last week. According to the Israeli army, militants fired 35 homemade rockets into Israel during the fighting.
Hartmann said the militants” declarations "don”t mean anything to us." But after several nights of activity, Israel halted its airstrikes last Thursday.
Israeli security officials said the operation was informally halted over the weekend. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under security regulations.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said a halt in fighting "serves the interests" of Israelis and Palestinians.
"As Palestinians, we are fully committed to the cessation of violence against Israelis anywhere, and I hope the Israeli announcement today constitutes a full cessation by Israel of violence against Palestinians anywhere," he said.