Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets at the Jewish state and Israeli troops responded with limited air strikes and tank fire, despite a unilateral ceasefire implemented by Israel in the Gaza Strip yesterday morning.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet at the start of the weekly meeting in Jerusalem that the ceasefire, which came into effect at 2am was “fragile” and needed to be examined “minute by minute and hour by hour.”
“We hope the fire will cease, after we halted our fire, but if it continues the Israel Defense Force will respond,” he said.
“We will react without hesitation if this is required,” he said.
Olmert made the comments after Palestinian militants launched rockets and mortars at southern Israel.
An Israeli military spokesman said at least seven rockets, including one long-range Gard missile, were launched yesterday morning.
There were no injuries.
Militants also opened fire in the northern Gaza Strip, the spokesman said.
Israeli troops called for air support and backup from armored units, which fired at and hit Palestinians.
Air force aircraft also attacked one rocket-launching squad.
Announcing the ceasefire on Saturday night, Olmert told a news conference that Israel had achieved the aims it set for itself when launching its Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Dec. 27 and was therefore calling a halt to the fighting.
He also apologized for the heavy Palestinian casualties caused by the Israeli attacks.
But he said Israeli troops would, for the time being, remain in the Gaza Strip and would respond if attacked.
Hamas rejected the unilateral ceasefire announcement and greeted it by launching a rocket salvo at the city of Beersheba.
Hamas spokesmen said the group would not halt its operations until all its demands were met, including a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the opening of the crossing points.
An Israeli pullout is, however, unlikely to be carried out until Israel is satisfied that a mechanism is in place to ensure that Hamas is unable to smuggle more weapons into the Gaza Strip.
Although Israeli air attacks devastated Gaza City and destroyed all Hamas security installations, the Islamist group issued a statement yesterday morning congratulating the Palestinians on “a great victory” and saying it “had caused heavy losses to the enemy and forced it to withdraw.”
Palestinian medical officials said that at least 1,245 Palestinians had been killed and more than 5,100 injured since Israel began its military campaign.
Nine Israeli soldiers have been killed in the ground fighting against Hamas, while one soldier and three civilians have been killed, and dozens more wounded, by the approximately 700 rockets launched by militants during the Israeli offensive.
Israel was going to set up a forward emergency room at the Erez crossing on the Gaza-Israel border, to treat Palestinian wounded, the Israel foreign ministry said yesterday morning.
Meanwhile, European and Middle Eastern leaders were in Egypt for a summit yesterday set to be attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a bid to shore up a fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Turkey — which have offered to satisfy a key Israeli demand to secure Gaza’s border with Egypt and stop Hamas from rearming — were to be represented at the meeting in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.