Hamas ready for truce amid Gaza rockets crisis

Militants make truce gesture with Israel after several days of strikes and counter-attacks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 3:52am

Palestinian militants say they are ready for a truce with Israel to defuse a growing crisis after days of rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip.

As the conflict moved into a fifth day, the Israeli army said its aircraft struck Gaza three times early yesterday, hitting a weapons storage facility and two rocket launching sites used by militants. No casualties were reported in the strikes.

There was no immediate response from Israel to the suggestions of a truce, and it has warned it was ready to increase its air strikes and shelling if the rockets did not stop.

Leaders of Hamas, the faction that controls Gaza, met Islamic Jihad and other groups on Monday night and said they would respond according to the way Israel acted, which was an approach used in previous flare-ups to offer a ceasefire.

"If [Israel] is interested in calm they should stop the aggression," Sami Abu Zuhri, of Hamas, said.

The Palestinian people were acting in self-defence, he said.

"The ball is in Israel's court. The resistance factions will observe Israel's behaviour on the ground and will act accordingly," Khaled al-Batsh, of the Islamic Jihad group, said.

Throughout Monday, Israel had warned it was ready for stronger action. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened foreign ambassadors in what was an apparent move to pre-empt international censure should Israel, whose 2008-2009 Gaza offensive exacted a high civilian toll, again go in hard.

Netanyahu briefed the envoys in Ashkelon, a port city within range of some Palestinian rockets. "None of their governments would accept a situation like this," he said.

He was due to convene his close forum of nine senior ministers yesterday to decide a course of action. Israel Radio said Defence Minister Ehud Barak and military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz had met Netanyahu on Monday night to present possible plans.

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, a key member of Netanyahu's Likud party, said the briefing was meant to prepare world opinion for "what is about to happen", adding there might be an escalation soon.

"Hamas bears responsibility. The heads of Hamas should pay the price and not sleep at night. I expect to see not just a return to targeted killings, but also to very wide activity by [the army]," he told Israel Radio.

Hamas staged launches at the weekend but it did not claim responsibility for attacks earlier on Monday, suggesting it was looking to step back.

The Israeli military said Palestinians had fired 12 rockets on Monday, and 119 had been launched since Saturday.

Netanyahu said a million Israelis, about 12 per cent of the population, were in danger. Six Palestinians have been killed by Israeli shells fired on Gaza since Saturday, and at least 40 have been wounded.