Gaza rockets pepper Israel despite truce

An Egyptian-brokered truce had gone into effect after Palestinian leader Abbas demanded military escalation in Gaza to be stopped

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Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip launched four rockets into Israel on Thursday despite an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire announced by Palestinian faction Islamic Jihad after the most intense cross-border violence since the 2012 war.

No one was hurt by the evening rocket salvo, the Israeli army said. With winter rainstorms keeping people indoors and Iron Dome interceptors shooting down some rockets, the two-day flare-up has been relatively free of casualties, according to Reuters.

Israel’s hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for reoccupation of the enclave, an unlikely step since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted with measured language.

Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed faction that has sometimes operated independent of Gaza’s Hamas government, began the barrage on Wednesday after Israel’s forces killed three of its fighters a day earlier.

On Thursday afternoon, Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh announced that the truce ending the eight-day war of November 2012 between Israel and Gaza militants would resume if the Israelis complied.

“Following intensive Egyptian contacts and efforts, the agreement for calm has been restored in accordance with understandings reached in 2012 in Cairo,” he said on Facebook.

There was no public response from Israel, but a senior Defence Ministry official said earlier in the day he expected the fighting to die down soon.

Minutes before Batsh posted word of the truce, Israeli aircraft struck targets in Rafah, in southern Gaza near the border with Egypt, wounding three Palestinians, witnesses said. The Israeli military said “seven terror sites” had been hit.

Abbas condemns escalation

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Thursday condemned the military escalation in and around the Gaza Strip, including rocket fire on Israel, at a news conference in Bethlehem.

“We condemn all military escalation, including rockets,” he said after a major flareup along the Gaza border, which saw militants firing scores of rockets at southern Israel, and warplanes striking some 30 targets in Gaza overnight.

Earlier, Abbas had demanded Israel immediately halt its “military escalation” in Gaza, but did not condemn the barrage of rockets fired over the border by militants from Islamic Jihad, which the group said numbered 130.

His remarks sparked an angry response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who denounced him for failing to condemn the salvos.

“How is it possible that he doesn’t condemn the firing of rockets at innocent civilians?” he asked while on a tour with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron.

“But he did condemn Israel for responding and firing at three terrorists who fired a mortar shell at them,” he said referring.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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