Israel, Palestinians agree to stop fighting that has killed 11

The flare-up is the most recent round of fighting that both Israel and Hamas agreed to control.

JERUSALEM // Egypt yesterday reportedly helped contain fighting between Israel and militants operating in the Gaza Strip.

The violence killed 10 Palestinians and an Israeli.

A ceasefire brokered by Cairo appeared to take hold even though at least three rockets, which Israel claimed were fired from the Palestinian enclave, landed in Israel soon after the agreement was introduced at 6am yesterday.

About three dozen rockets and mortars launched by Islamic Jihad and a handful of smaller militant organisations rained down on Israeli cities on Saturday and early yesterday.

The attacks reportedly killed a 56-year-old Israeli man who was fleeing for cover in Ashkelon, and came after an Israeli air raid on Saturday that killed five senior members of Islamic Jihad.

The flare-up was the most recent round of fighting that both Israel and Hamas agreed to control. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed a willingness to abide by the ceasefire despite truculent comments made during his weekly cabinet meeting yesterday.

"We are not being belligerent and do not seek a flare-up but will protect ourselves according to these principles," he said. If "someone comes to kill you, kill him first".

The violence appeared to have been triggered by a long-range Grad missile that was launched from Gaza and struck an area near the Israeli city of Ashdod on Wednesday.

No organisation claimed responsibility for the attack, which marked the end of weeks of uneasy calm between Israel and militant groups in Gaza.

The fighting could complicate the second phase of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.

The first swap this month set free 477 of the 1,027 Palestinians to be returned in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was released after five years in captivity.

The Islamist group, buoyed by support resulting from the prisoner deal, had not claimed responsibility for any of the projectiles fired at Israel.

Political observers and analysts said Hamas's handling of the fighting was designed to appease militant groups, while also preventing an escalation that could undermine its control over Gaza.

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, correspondents for the newspaper Haaretz, wrote yesterday that Hamas's strategy was to let Islamic Jihad rattle its sabres at Israel to salvage its image as a resistance group. Had the lull in the fighting gone on much longer, [Islamic] Jihad risked fading from the public eye in Gaza," they wrote, adding that "for the sake of convenience, Hamas must let Islamic Jihad respond to the killing of its members with rockets, but only for a limited period".

In August, Hamas seemed to dither about fighting in a brief flare-up that saw Israeli jets kill members of a Gaza-based militant group, the Popular Resistance Committees, following an attack by militants inside Israel that left eight Israelis dead.

The Islamist group was largely believed to have restrained militants from fighting back.

In March, Israel and Hamas traded more deadly salvos after an announcement that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, would be willing to travel to Gaza to reconcile with the Islamist group. Observers said both Israel and Hamas at the time recognised a mutual interest in scuttling the tentative attempt at Palestinian reconciliation and tacitly agreed to exchange mortar and rocket fire - many of which struck uninhabited fields and empty buildings.

The fighting helped bolster the image of Mr Netanyahu, who has come under criticism by right-wing elements for setting free hundreds of Palestinians in the prisoner-exchange deal, said Magid Shihade, a faculty member at the Abu-Lughod Institute for International Studies at Birzeit University.

"It allows Netanyahu to show he's still tough," he said.

Published: October 31, 2011 04:00 AM


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