Gaza militants Monday fired six rockets at southern Israel but later offered to cease fire if the Jewish state did the same, as the Israeli top brass weighed a stronger response to a flare-up in violence.
The number of rockets fired represented a significant drop from Sunday, when dozens of missiles crashed into southern Israel, prompting a series of overnight raids in retaliation.
The main Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, met and said they were ready for a ceasefire if Israel “stops its aggression” against the territory.
“The Islamic and nationalist movement confirm that the response of the resistance depends on whether the Zionist aggression against our people is continued,” they said in a statement read out at a news conference in Gaza City.
A flare-up in violence since Saturday has claimed the lives of six Palestinians, as armed groups fired more than 115 rockets at Israel, wounding eight people.
Egyptian security sources said Cairo has been attempting to broker a ceasefire, with militants from Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement and from Islamic Jihad saying they would observe any truce “provided Israel commits to doing the same.”
On Sunday night, Israel carried out air strikes in north and southern Gaza, and Palestinian militants began launching rockets into Israel from around 7:30 am.
An initial count of 11 rockets was later revised down to six by the military, with the same number confirmed by the police. Two were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
One rocket landed in Netivot where medics said they treated 26 people for shock.
Monday’s rocket fire was claimed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Resistance Committees.
Israel’s top military officials were said to be weighing whether to launch a more serious response to the flare-up, and Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned that efforts to stamp out rocket fire would intensify.
“These are very important days…. in light of the ongoing activity against Hamas and terror organisations in Gaza, which is likely to intensify and expand,” he said, quoted by his office.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, touring southern Israel with foreign diplomats, warned that “the world must understand that Israel has the complete right and the obligation to protect its citizens.”
“We shall not sit with our arms folded in the face of repeated, almost daily, attacks on our citizens,” he added. “We shall act to stop it.”
US ambassador Dan Shapiro, writing on Facebook, has said “the United States supports Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens from these attacks.”
On Saturday evening, militants fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli army jeep, injuring four soldiers. The Israeli military hit back, killing six Palestinians, and wounding more than 30.
In light of the clashes, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday urged both sides to “refrain from exacerbating the situation.”
The violence, which comes amid an Israeli election campaign, raised the spectre of a broader Israeli military campaign like its 22-day Operation Cast Lead, launched in December 2008.
That campaign, which began six weeks before a general election, claimed the lives of 1,400 Palestinians — half of them civilians — and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.