Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military is ready to use “greater force” to halt rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, after Hamas declared a cease-fire following a week of violence in the south.
Three rockets fired from Gaza have struck Israel today, according to an Israeli army spokeswoman, who spoke anonymously in accordance with military regulation. There were also no reports of Israeli strikes on the seaside strip.
The truce, or calm, is intended to halt a round of violence that left one Israeli and as many as 15 Palestinians dead while at least 150 rockets were launched at Israel.
“Regarding the events in the south, our army has acted forcefully against those who seek to injure us, and if necessary will act with even greater force,” Netanyahu told the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem today, according to a text message sent from his office.
“A deal was brokered by Egypt, after talking with both sides, to restore calm starting tonight,” said Ayman Taha, a spokesman for the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, 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 is the second it has said it agreed to since the bloodshed began with an attack on the Israeli-Egyptian border on June 18.
Hamas received a “moral boost” today with the announcement that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi was elected Egypt’s first Islamist civilian president, said Mark Heller, senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “How much practical assistance Hamas will get from Egypt remains to be seen, as the army will keep control over security matters for the time being,” Heller said in a phone interview.
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. News of Mursi’s election was greeted with celebratory gunfire by Hamas militants on Gaza’s streets.
“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, Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, said yesterday.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is among Israeli leaders who have voiced concern about worsening security on the border with Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state more than three decades ago.
“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.”
The Hamas-announced truce came after the Hamas militant wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, warned 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 halt fire. 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.