Sun, Feb 15, 2009 - Page 6 News List

New bloodshed causes hitch in Gaza truce

TIT FOR TAT The Egyptian-brokered deal has been called off after rocket fire by Palestinian militants and Israeli airstrikes diminished the possibility of a ceasefire

AFP , DOHA

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Friday that there had been a hitch in plans to announce a truce in and around Gaza after rocket fire by Palestinian militants drew renewed Israeli air strikes on the war-battered territory.

The Damascus-based leader-in-exile of the Islamist movement that controls Gaza did not elaborate on the nature of the problem, but said he no longer expected Egyptian mediators to announce a deal today as originally planned.

“The Egyptians had told us that the announcement of this truce would be made on Sunday [today], but there has been a complication and we don’t know if that date will be kept to,” Meshaal said in the Qatari capital where he had flown in from a visit to Libya.

Meshaal’s No. 2 Mussa Abu Marzuq had told the Egyptian state news agency MENA late on Thursday that the mediators would announce an agreement on an 18-month truce within 48 hours after Hamas gave it its endorsement.

But there has still been no reaction from Israel, where an inconclusive general election held on Tuesday has created what threatens to be a prolonged period of political uncertainty.

That uncertainty was compounded by a fresh bout of tit-for-tat violence in and around Gaza.

Gaza militants fired Qassam rockets and a mortar round into southern Israel, causing no casualties, the army said.

A spokesman said the rockets had exploded near the southern city of Sderot — a frequent target of attacks from the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Israel responded with an air strike on the southern Gaza Strip that killed a militant and with other air raids on suspected smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt.

“There was an air strike in Khan Yunis against terror operatives who were planning an attack inside Israel,” an Israeli military spokesman said.

Palestinian medics said one person was killed and three were wounded in the raid in southern Gaza, with witnesses saying two fighters from the Popular Resistance Committees, a small militant group allied with Hamas, were targeted.

Early yesterday, six people were wounded when two Israeli air strikes hit targets in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian medics and witnesses said.

One strike targeted a workshop in the Jabaliya refugee camp, wounding six people, they said. A second air strike hit an open area in the camp, causing no injuries or damage.

An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed the two raids, saying they were directed at “weapons-producing sites in Jabaliya refugee camp.”

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