Gaza militants agree to halt fire on Israel

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Gaza’s Popular Resistance Committees
on Monday agreed to halt rocket fire on Israel and abide by an Egyptian-brokered
truce after four days of deadly clashes.

At a news conference in Gaza
City, the PRC said its militants would respect a “temporary” ceasefire which was
announced late on Sunday by Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

“We have temporarily
stopped firing rockets at Israel according to the national consensus,” said a
masked spokesman for the group, which was blamed by Israel for a series of
bloody attacks near Eilat last week that killed eight Israelis and sparked the
latest round of bloodshed.

But the PRC, whose leader was killed in a
series of Israeli air strikes late last week, said talk of a more permanent
truce was “out of the question. We have an open account with the enemy until it
leaves Palestinian soil.”

The announcement came just hours after a senior
Hamas official told AFP that the factions had hammered out a truce agreement in
talks with Egyptian officials, which would be contingent on Israel stopping its
air strikes on Gaza.

“We have reached an informal agreement to establish
a ceasefire from tonight on condition that Israel halts its attacks,” he told

In a formal announcement on Monday, Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu
thanked both Egypt and UN envoy Robert Serry for helping “to stop the aggression
against Gaza.”

“An agreement about a mutual truce was reached and we
affirm that the Israeli occupation must commit to this truce because the
factions told the government they are committed to it for as long as the
occupation is,” he said.

On Sunday night, the Hamas-run security forces
were “instructed to stop the shooting” against Israel, with police checking cars
in the border area, and checkpoints set up at the entrance to every town in

Israel police said seven rockets were fired from Gaza between
midnight and 8:00 am (2100-0500 GMT), but nothing after that.

15-member security cabinet was reportedly called to an emergency meeting at 3:00
am (0000 GMT), army radio said, at which the military’s top brass presented
various options for stopping the rocket fire.

But after an hour of
discussion, ministers decided against a ground operation for fear it “could
trigger mass demonstrations in Egypt which could destabilise the regime in
Cairo” and also harm Israeli interests in September when the Palestinian are
planning to seek UN membership, the radio said.

Efforts to end the
fighting in and around Gaza came as Israel sought to head off a diplomatic
crisis with Egypt sparked by Thursday’s attacks near Eilat, with Cairo saying
five policemen had been killed by Israeli fire during the hunt for gunmen along
the border.

Two days later, Egypt’s state television said Cairo was going
to recall its envoy from Israel in protest.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud
Barak expressed “regret” over the deaths and promised an investigation, but
Egypt said it wasn’t enough, although it made no move to confirm reports it
would recall its envoy.

The looming spectre of a crisis with Egypt played
a concrete role in bringing about an end to the Gaza confrontations, Israeli
press reports said.

“As early as Saturday morning, in an effort to avoid
worsening relations with Egypt following Thursday’s terror attack, the
government ordered the IDF to greatly reduce its attacks on terrorist targets in
the Gaza Strip,” Haaretz said.

“We must not lose Egypt because of one
terror attack,” a senior defence official told the paper. “If the attack near
Eilat harms our relations with Egypt, that will be a great victory for the
terror organisations.”

Tensions in and around Gaza kicked off after the
Negev desert shooting attacks with Israel launching a wave of retaliatory air
strikes against the Popular Resistance Committees, killing its leader and
several other of its senior militants.

In the following days, Israeli air
strikes killed 15 Palestinians, nine of them militants, while more than 50
people were wounded.

Over the same period, militants fired more than 100
rockets and mortars at Israeli towns and cities in the south, killing one man
and injuring more than 20, one critically.

( / 22.08.2011)

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