Three Qassam rockets hit despite Gaza cease-fire; IDF withdraws troops
By Avi Issacharoff, Aluf Benn and Jack Khoury, Haaretz Correspondent and
The military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the
continued Qassam rocket fire directed at Israel on Sunday, despite a Gaza
Israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza officially began the cease-fire on
Sunday at 6 A.M., following an agreement reached between Palestinian Authority
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian factions.
Nonetheless, three Qassam rockets hit Israel in the first few hours after the
truce went into effect Sunday morning, causing no damage or injuries. One of
the rockets hit Sderot, one hit an open area north of the western Negev town,
and another hit near an area kibbutz.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas military wing officials said the rocket fire was in
response to the arrest of two Hamas operatives in Hebron, despite earlier
statements promising not to violate the Gaza cease-fire in response to West
Bank incidents and despite the fact that the arrests took place prior to 6
A spokesman for Islamic Jihad, Abu Hamda, said his group fired rockets into
Israel at 8 A.M., two hours after the start of the truce, and denied his group
had signed on to the cease-fire agreement.
Government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said in response to the continued Qassam
fire: "Let's hope that's just the problems of the beginning. But if Israel is
attacked, we will respond. If there are Palestinian factions that are not part
of the cease-fire, it's hard to see how the cease-fire will hold."
The Israel Defense Forces said all troops were withdrawn from Gaza in the
hours before the cease-fire began. Streets in northern Gaza were empty
immediately after the truce took hold.
Minutes before the ceasefire went into effect, Palestinian militants in Gaza
fired at least three Qassam rockets at Israel.
One of the rockets hit a house in Sderot, causing damage but no injuries. Two
Qassams landed at the entrances to kibbutzim in the western Negev, causing no
damage or injuries.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks. Several additional rockets hit
open areas in Israel during the course of the night. No damage or injuries
Government sources in Jerusalem said the Palestinians had agreed to stop
Qassam fire, suicide bombings and the digging of tunnels.
A senior security source said on Saturday that military pressure and increased
military actions in recent weeks had led the Palestinian factions and terror
organizations to agree to a cease-fire.
Abbas called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday to tell him about the
details of the agreement reached among the Palestinian factions.
After his conversation with Abbas, Olmert consulted with ministers including
Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the
security establishment, and told Abbas that since Israel had operated in the
Gaza Strip in response to terror, Israel would stop its military activities
and remove its forces from Gaza in response to the cease-fire in the hope it
would hold and serve both sides.
A senior military source said that in the past 96 hours, 25 Palestinian
terrorists had been killed, and military pressure had shown them they were
losing people and assets and making only small gains, even though they were
Government sources in Jerusalem said if the cease-fire held, it would bring
forward a meeting between Olmert and Abbas.
The Americans recieved a report on the details of the agreement and the
Olmert-Abbas conversation, but have not announced whether they intend to
initiate a summit. U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice are scheduled to visit Jordan on Wednesday, and U.S. envoy
Elliot Abrams will be in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
"We welcome the announcement and see this as a positive step forward," White
House spokesman Alex Conant said Saturday evening in Washington. We hope it
leads to less violence for the Israeli and Palestinian people."
A spokesman for a group affiliated with the Popular Resistance Committees
(PRC), Abu Abir, told Haaretz that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh
met Saturday night with representatives of a number of armed groups involved
in Qassam firing, including the PRC. The previous day Haniyeh met with all
Abu Abir said a condition for the cease-fire was for Israel "to stop its
aggression against the Palestinian people."
In answer to a question from Haaretz, Abu Abir said Israel would have to stop
targeted assassinations, raids and destruction of houses in the Gaza Strip and
the West Bank. However he said that while the factions were not obligated to
stop attacks in the West Bank, if Israel made an arrest in the West Bank, that
did not mean the factions would fire Qassams in Gaza.
A spokesman for the PA Interior Ministry, Khaled Abu Hilal, told Haaretz that
this was the first decision of its kind involving all factions. He said that
if the cease-fire succeeded in the Gaza Strip, the factions would be called to
decide on extending it to the West Bank. "At the moment the West Bank is not
included in the cease-fire. We are waiting for confidence-building measures
from Israel," he said.
The deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, Musa Abu Marzuk, said over the
weekend that Israel had agreed to an exchange of prisoners for kidnapped
soldier Gilad Shalit. Abu Marzuk, based in Damascus, also said that based on
talks Hamas political head Khaled Meshal had held in Cairo, it appeared Israel
had agreed to release prisoners simultaneously with the release of Shalit,
which it had opposed in the past. "This is definitely encouraging," he said.
Meshal threatens uprising if Palestinian state not established
Meshal said Saturday his group was willing to give peace negotiations six
months to reach an agreement for a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West
Bank, but threatened a new uprising if talks fail.
"We give six months to open real political horizons ... we agreed on the
national accord to establish a Palestinian state, with the June 4, 1967
borders," he said, during talks in Cairo. "They have to seize this
Meshal warned that if an agreement is not reached within that time, "Hamas
will become stronger and the resistance will resume ... and will go on with a
Also Saturday, Meshal blamed Israel for the lack of progress on a deal that
would lead to an agreement to free Shalit, captured by Hamas militants in
June, in exchange for some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
"We are not the reason behind postponing the decision; the postponing of a
settlement is due to the other side," Meshal said.
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