A Palestinian man inspects destroyed buildings following an Israeli air strike
A Palestinian man inspects destroyed buildings following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City on March 14. Palestinian militants fired rockets at southern Israel on Thursday, but a fragile truce between the two sides that ended four days of violence appeared still to be largely holding. © Mohammed Abed - AFP/File
A Palestinian man inspects destroyed buildings following an Israeli air strike
<
>
AFP
Last updated: March 16, 2012

Israel and Palestinians trade fire, testing Gaza truce

Militants in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets into southern Israel on Friday, officials said, as a fledgling truce in and around the Palestinian territory firmed up.

"One rocket hit an empty field in the Eshkol region, causing no damage or injuries," police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP.

An additional rocket hit an uninhabited area of the northwestern Negev desert early on Friday morning, according to the Israeli military.

Israel and the Islamic Jihad group, which was responsible for much of the rocket fire during a major upsurge in cross-border violence though last weekend, agreed on Tuesday to begin observing an Egyptian-brokered truce.

Since then, 13 rockets hit Israel and another three were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, according to the military.

But despite the exchanges, another major flare-up has so far been avoided, and the violence has returned to its dimensions of the first nine weeks of 2012, in which over 50 rockets and mortars hit Israel.

Schools in several areas of southern Israel, including the main Negev city of Beersheva and the Mediterranean coastal towns of Ashdod and Ashkelon, remained closed as a precaution on Friday.

On Thursday, militants fired five rockets from Gaza but none caused any casualties.

Israeli assault helicopters opened fire on the northern Gaza Strip in response, a Palestinian security source said. The Israeli military confirmed the attack.

Israel and the Islamic Jihad group, which was responsible for much of the rocket fire during a major upsurge in cross-border violence though last weekend, agreed on Tuesday to begin observing an Egyptian-brokered truce.

Army spokeswoman Avital Leibovich told reporters on Thursday that since the violence erupted last Friday, Palestinians had fired more than 310 rockets at Israel of which "170 rockets or so" struck the Jewish state.

Several fell short inside Gaza and 60 were destroyed by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

A chain of Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket salvoes started when Israel killed Zuhair al-Qaisi, head of the radical Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees, prompting other militant groups to fire rockets over the border.

The army said Qaisi had planned a deadly attack last August -- when militants sneaked across the border from the Sinai Peninsula and killed eight Israelis -- and accused him of planning a repeat attack "in the coming days."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the truce will be short-lived if the rocket fire continues.

And a senior leader of Islamic Jihad's Al-Quds Brigade warned that Israeli targeted killings would cause them to intensify rocket attacks.

"If the occupation targets any leader of any Palestinian group whatsoever or any citizen, the Brigades will respond with force and expand the reach of the response," Abu Ibrahim told AFP.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Stay Connected
twitter icon Twitter 13,558 linkedin icon LinkedIn 463
facebook icon Facebook 87,173 google+ icon Google+ 272