Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (L)
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (L) visits an Iron Dome launcher stationed close to the southern city of Ashkelon on August 21. An Egyptian-brokered halt to Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip appeared to be holding on Tuesday, with the Israeli military saying that calm had prevailed along the border overnight. © David Buimovitch - AFP/File
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (L)
Philippe Agret, AFP
Last updated: August 23, 2011

Calm prevails along Gaza border as truce holds

An Egyptian-brokered halt to Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip appeared to be holding on Tuesday, with the Israeli military saying that calm had prevailed along the border overnight.

The truce was announced Sunday evening following four days of violence sparked by a series of shooting ambushes near Eilat in southern Israel on Thursday in which eight Israelis died.

"There has been nothing today, compared to 11 yesterday," an Israeli military spokesman told AFP on Tuesday, referring to the number of rockets and mortar rounds fired at Israel a day earlier.

"So far the truce has largely held," Haaretz newspaper said, referring to a "temporary" ceasefire that was announced late on Sunday by a senior official in Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Gaza's Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a grouping of militant organisations, said it would join the truce a day later.

Although four rockets were fired into southern Israel in the following hours, Israel did not respond, with the press assessing it was unlikely to harm the truce.

"The defence establishment believes that the rockets fired yesterday were launched by small terror groups looking to challenge Hamas and demonstrate their independence but that over the coming weeks, calm will prevail," Haaretz said.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, said in televised remarks: "This is a delicate situation and there is a real risk of endangering the (1979 Egyptian-Israeli) peace treaty, which is a precious strategic asset for Israel."

"The whole Middle East is a powder keg and an Israeli action could have consequences for what is happening in Egypt, in Syria and in Libya," army radio cited a high-ranking military official who spoke on condition of anonymity as saying.

The latest unrest was sparked by a series of shooting ambushes near Eilat on Thursday which killed eight Israelis and was blamed on the PRC.

In the following days, Israeli air strikes killed 15 Palestinians, 12 of whom the military says were militants, and more than 50 people were wounded. Among those killed was PRC chief Kamal al-Nayrab, who died in an Israeli air strike on Rafah, in the south of Gaza near the Egyptian border.

Palestinians fired more than 100 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli towns and cities in the south, killing one man and injuring more than 20, one critically.

Israel on Tuesday sent a complaint to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, objecting to the lack of Security Council condemnation of the Eilat shooting, according to the foreign ministry.

Lebanon, which currently holds a Security Council seat, on Friday blocked a statement which would have called the deadly attacks in southern Israel terrorism.

The move brought criticism from the United States which said the terrorism label is a "standard" Security Council description after such an attack.

The last ceasefire was agreed on April 10, after another cycle of violence that began when an anti-tank missile slammed into an Israeli school bus.

During that flareup, 18 Palestinians were killed, half of them civilians, and more than 150 rockets and mortar rounds fired into southern Israel.

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