Ceasefire holds in Gaza after Israeli air strikes, Palestinian rocket firings

Israeli warplanes bomb Palestinian targets after fatal air strike earlier in week prompted firing of 90 rockets into mainly Jewish state

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 11:47pm


A ceasefire was holding in Gaza yesterday after Israeli warplanes pounded 29 Palestinian targets in response to heavy Palestinian rocket fire into the mainly Jewish state.

Warplanes yesterday hit bases of the strip's Hamas rulers and the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, the al-Quds Brigades, which had earlier claimed responsibility for firing dozens of rockets into Israel. Israel's army said the remains of 60 rockets had been found, five of which hit populated areas.

There is no alternative to a full reoccupation of the entire Gaza Strip

"Following intensive Egyptian contacts and efforts, the agreement for calm has been restored in accordance with understandings reached in 2012 in Cairo," Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader, wrote on Facebook, referring to a truce that ended an eight-day Gaza war two years ago. Batsh added that Islamic Jihad, which began launching rockets into Israel on Wednesday after Israeli soldiers killed three of its fighters a day earlier, would hold its fire as long as Israel did the same.

There was no immediate word from Israel. A senior defence ministry official said earlier yesterday he had expected the fighting to die down soon.

Minutes before Batsh posted word of the truce on Facebook, Israeli aircraft struck targets in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt, wounding three Palestinians, witnesses said.

Al-Quds said it fired 90 rockets at Israel in response to an air strike on Tuesday that killed three members in southern Gaza.

The rocket attacks, which sent tens of thousands into shelters in southern Israel, were the biggest wave of attacks since a November 2012 confrontation between Israel and Hamas.

There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side on Wednesday.

Hamas personnel, including members of its military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, had earlier evacuated all their bases, Gaza security sources said.

The earlier Al-Quds barrage, which Israel said came from several sites, prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to warn of a tough response.

Washington called for "these terrorists attacks to cease immediately", adding that it condemned the rockets from Gaza "in the strongest terms".

The violence came just hours after British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived on his first official visit to the region since taking office in 2010.

The attack began shortly after Netanyahu and Cameron addressed parliament, and prompted a stern warning from the Israeli leader, who pledged to act "with great force" against those seeking to harm Israel, a statement from his office said.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon ordered the closure yesterday of the Kerem Shalom goods crossing between Israel and Gaza and the Erez pedestrian crossing "until further security assessments", the military said.

"This is the biggest attack on Israel since the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defence," the military said on Twitter, referring to a confrontation that year which claimed the lives of 177 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and six Israelis.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would have no choice but to reoccupy Gaza, from which it withdrew all troops and settlers in summer 2005.

"Following an attack like this, a barrage of more than 50 rockets, there is no alternative to a full reoccupation of the entire Gaza Strip," he told private Channel 2 television.

Additional reporting by Reuters, Associated Press

Orthodox Jews must do Israeli national service after law passes 65-1

Israeli MPs have voted through a law which will compel ultra-Orthodox Jews to either serve in the military or perform civilian service. The bill was voted through by 65 to 1.

The lone dissenting vote on Wednesday was cast by an MP from the far-right Jewish Home, who broke coalition discipline to oppose the law. Opposition parties within the 120-seat parliament had earlier announced they would not participate in the vote.

The cabinet last year agreed to end a practice under which tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox were exempted from military service if they were in full-time study at a Jewish seminary, or yeshiva. The new legislation stipulates that ultra-Orthodox men must either join the army or perform civilian service, in a law which will go into force in 2017.

The law also includes a clause stipulating sanctions against draft dodgers, including imprisonment - a move which has enraged the ultra-Orthodox leadership, which said it would be tantamount to jailing people for practising their faith. Military service is compulsory in Israel, with men serving three years and women two.

Agence France-Presse