Palestinian militants deny ceasefire, launch five more rockets into Israel

CONFLICTING VIEWS: While Palestinian officials said the main militant groups had consented to halt rocket fire, the rebels denied an agreement had been reached


Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 6

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired five rockets at Israel early yesterday, despite reports that they had agreed to halt such attacks.

Palestinian officials said yesterday that the main militant groups, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, reached an agreement to stop firing rockets if Israel calls off the Gaza offensive it launched last month after Hamas-linked militants captured a soldier in a raid on an Israeli military post. The militant groups denied an agreement had been reached.

Under the reported deal, the rocket fire was supposed to end at midnight on Saturday. But early yesterday morning, militants launched five homemade rockets into Israel, causing no injuries.

The talks in Gaza City were sponsored by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement was reached at a closed meeting.

Israel has been carrying out a campaign of airstrikes and raids into Gaza for nearly a month to pressure the militant to free the captured soldier and to stop firing rockets into Israel.

Palestinian officials said the unilateral Palestinian ceasefire was meant to end the offensive. But the militant groups denied a ceasefire had been reached, calling rocket fire a response to Israeli aggression.

Nabil Shaath, an aide to Abbas, said the president and the militant groups met in recent days and decided a ceasefire by Israel and the militants had to be adopted.

"A ceasefire is a ceasefire. It has to be accepted by the two parties, and it has to lead to a resolution of all the outstanding issues" in Gaza, Shaath said in an interview.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was traveling to the region yesterday to explore the possibility of a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. She was also expected to meet Abbas.