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Gaza factions offer truce, if Israel reciprocates

March 26, 2011 8:46 P.M. (Updated: April 3, 2011 11:54 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Palestinian factions in Gaza agreed Saturday to commit to a truce if Israel's military stopped attacking the coastal enclave.

The decision was made during a two-hour meeting in Gaza City, initiated by Hamas, to discuss Israel's escalation in attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Over the previous week, Israeli forces have bombarded the coastal enclave, killing 10 Palestinians including civilians and children. Dozens more were injured.

Israel's army says it is responding to a barrage of projectiles fired by militants into Israel, which have injured one Israeli in the last week.

On 19 March, Hamas militants fired 50 projectiles toward Israeli targets in retaliation for the death of two fighters in an Israeli air strike earlier in the week. No injuries or damages were reported as a result of the projectile barrage.

The truce meeting Saturday was attended by representatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and several other parties, all of which have claimed projectile fire in recent weeks.

Fatah and five other PLO factions did not participate.

Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader, told AFP after the meeting that "everybody confirmed that they respect the national consensus by calming things with the Zionist enemy."

But he said this "depends on the nature of Israeli behavior, and we insist on the need to respond immediately to each escalation by the occupiers."

And Osama Al-Haj Ahmed, a Popular Front leader, said "the factions confirmed their commitment to national consensus in order not to give the aggressors any pretext" for attacking.

Hamas already pledged on Wednesday to "to restore calm" in the coastal enclave.

"We confirm that our stance in the government is set on protecting the stability," Hamas spokesman Taher An-Nunu said in a statement.

"We will work to restore the field conditions that were prevalent over the last few weeks."

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas premier in Gaza, said he had been making contacts with other factions "with a view to Gaza avoiding new confrontations with the Israeli occupation."

In particular, he said he had spoken with Ramadan Shallah, the Damascus based chief of Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for many of the projectiles fired on Israel in the past week.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel had been "subjected to bouts of terror and rocket attacks" and that "we stand ready to act with great force and great determination to put a stop to it."

Friday was calm, but the Israeli army said Palestinian militants fired two rockets from Gaza into Israel overnight and damaged a house. No one was injured, the military said.

As Netanyahu spoke on Friday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the Gaza border with army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz saying calm seemed to be returning to the area.

And he indicated that if the rocket attacks stopped, Israel would also halt its strikes into Gaza.

"We don't intend to let the terror organizations again disturb the order but we will do all we need to to return the [military] activity to the border line itself," he said.

In a visit to Israel this week, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Washington firmly backed Israel's right to respond both to the rocket fire and the Jerusalem bombing, which he described as "repugnant acts."

But he suggested Israel should tread carefully or risk derailing the course of popular unrest sweeping Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East.

Gates pressed Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take "bold action" for peace despite soaring tensions, saying political upheaval in the region offered an opportunity.

Some Israeli leaders have appeared reluctant to be dragged into another bloody war with Hamas, especially as they lack international support for any new offensive on Gaza.

AFP contributed to this report

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