A spokesman for Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, said the group would be watching Israel’s commitment to a cease-fire announced last night that was to end rocket fire from Gaza in return for a cessation of air strikes.
The truce, or calm, was to halt a round of violence that left one Israeli and as many as 15 Palestinians dead while 150 rockets were launched at Israel. After the announcement of the truce, five rockets fired from Gaza were intercepted by Israel’s anti-missile Iron Dome system, according to an army spokeswoman, speaking anonymously in accordance with regulation.
“A deal was brokered by Egypt, after talking with both sides, to restore calm starting tonight,” Ayman Taha said last night on Palestine TV. “Hamas will be watching the situation on the ground within the coming hours and also the seriousness of the Israeli enemy’s commitment to the calm.”
The Hamas-announced cease-fire, the second it has said it agreed to since the bloodshed began with an attack on the Israeli-Egyptian border on June 18, came amid a delay in the announcement of the winner of the presidential election in Egypt.
A candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood has claimed victory in that contest, raising security concerns in Israel exacerbated by the violence on its border with Egypt. Israel has linked the Brotherhood to Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union, and has said that Palestinians in Gaza affiliated with the “global jihad” movement were responsible for the June 18 attack.
Barak Seri, a spokesman for Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, said after Taha’s statement that the minister had instructed Israeli forces to continue to act to stop rocket fire from Gaza.
“Hamas wants to test how much they can get away with, on the assumption that in the coming months, when the Brotherhood is in power,” its fighters will be able to escape to Egyptian soil, said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.
Barak is among Israeli leaders who have voiced concerns about worsening security on the border with Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state more than three decades ago. Seri said the minister told forces to prepare for a harsher response should rocket fire on southern Israel continue.
“Hamas is feeling pretty confident because it feels Israel has tried to lay down red lines and it has ignored them,” Spyer said. “Hamas has a strategic sense of wind in its sails because of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
After Taha’s televised statement, residents of Gaza reported that Israeli drones and war planes were no longer flying or hovering over the Hamas-controlled territory.
The Hamas-announced truce came after the Hamas militant wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, warned that it that it could no longer maintain “the quiet due to the enemy aerial strikes,” adding that “retaliation will come at a proper place and time.”
Late on June 20, Hamas said it had agreed to a truce. The number of rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza fell over the next two days, only to rise again yesterday amid a growing number of Israeli air strikes.
Egypt will announce the results of its presidential election at 3 p.m. Cairo time today, the state-run Ahram Gate website reported, citing Omar Salama, a member of the election commission.
Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi claims he has beaten Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister under ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Shafik’s campaign has also declared victory.
Akram Atallah, a political analyst at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, said both sides have an interest in containing the bloodshed.
“Both Hamas and Israel know very well that they won’t start an extensive battle amid the changes in the Arab world,” Atallah said by phone. “Israel doesn’t want to be involved in a war that leads to a confrontation with Egypt, and Hamas is seeking political privileges and not more escalation.”