GAZA, (Reuters) – Palestinian armed factions renewed their commitment to a Gaza Strip truce on Thursday but said rocket salvoes from the territory could resume if Israel did not halt military operations in the occupied West Bank.
The message was delivered to Israel by an Egyptian mediator who has been trying to prevent major confrontation after Hamas’s armed wing fired rockets and declared the Gaza truce dead on Tuesday, Palestinian sources familiar with the talks said.
Egyptian Major-General Burhan Hammad “informed the Israelis of the new commitment by the factions and at same time stressed that factions demanded the calm be reciprocal and simultaneous, covering Gaza and the West Bank”, one of the sources said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to the truce in November. Rocket fire from other groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees has continued sporadically.
Abbas, whose secular Fatah faction formed a ruling coalition with Hamas last month, called Tuesday’s rockets “an exceptional event that will not last” and urged restraint by Israel.
Hamas’s Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades said its barrage was a response to the killing of nine Palestinians in Israeli military operations against militants, mostly in the West Bank.
After security consultations on Wednesday, Olmert decided against launching a ground offensive in Gaza, Israeli political sources said. But in a statement, his office said Israel would not hesitate to attack rocket-firing squads.
Anticipating Israeli military action, Hamas gunmen took up positions overnight near Gaza’s border with Israel, covering themselves with tree branches as camouflage. “The Zionist enemy should understand that any thought of raiding the Gaza Strip will open the gates of hell and hundreds of rockets will be launched against (the southern Israeli towns) of Sderot and Ashkelon and beyond,” said Qassam brigades spokesman Abu Ubaida.
Abu Abaida also threatened to shoot down Israeli military aircraft flying over the Gaza Strip.
Israel has signalled its interest in extending the Gaza truce to the West Bank but only if militant threats cease first.