Israeli troops fired on Palestinians near the Gaza Strip border, in an incident Hamas said left one dead and 25 injured, leading to accusations from both sides that a two-day-old cease-fire was breached.
Palestinian farmers were shot at on land they own near the Israel-Gaza border, said Ashraf al-Qedra, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza. Israeli army spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said in a message on Twitter that the Palestinians breached the cease-fire by hurling stones and trying to damage the fence.
“Hamas hasn’t decided to respond to the Israeli breaching of the agreement, but we hope that such violations won’t be committed again,” Sami Abu Zuhri, the movement’s spokesman, said in a statement e-mailed to reporters. He said Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union, reported the incident to Egypt.
The shooting is the most serious episode of violence since Egypt brokered the cease-fire, announced late on Nov. 21 after eight days of airstrikes and missile fire in which 167 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Channel 2 television that the bombardment destroyed all Hamas’s heavy rockets and as much as 40 percent of the medium-range weapons stockpiled by the Islamist group. Some of the 75,000 reservists called up for a possible ground assault on Gaza are gradually being released from duty, the army said.
“All our objectives in Gaza were achieved,” Benny Gantz, the army chief of staff, said during a visit to a hospital in Beersheva, southern Israel, where soldiers injured by rocket attacks are being treated. “The operation’s long-term consequences will become clear, with each passing day it will become more obvious to the other side what really happened to them.”
If it holds, the cease-fire will give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is running for a third term in January, the success of stopping rockets targeted at Israeli civilians. It also will bolster Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s stature as a regional player and leave the moderate Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, in the shadow of an ascendant Hamas.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised speech yesterday that “the idea of invading Gaza after this victory has ended and will not return, God willing,” according to a video posted on the Guardian website.
Israeli security forces have made dozens of arrests in the West Bank in the past two days, after a bomb on a Tel Aviv bus injured 30 people on Nov. 21. Those detained late yesterday include four Hamas-affiliated members of the Palestinian parliament affiliated as well as the assembly’s secretary-general, Army Radio said.
Issa Qaraqi, Palestinian Authority of minister of prison affairs, told reporters today that most of those detained were Hamas activists and leaders. “We view these unjustified arrests as another attempt by the Israeli government to move their aggression from Gaza to the West Bank,” he said.
The cease-fire accord says that “Israel shall stop all hostilities on the Gaza Strip land, sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals,” and that “all Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel, including rocket attacks and attacks along the border.”
Israel had massed armor on its border east of Gaza for an operation that would have been the first since an incursion starting in December 2008, when fighting killed 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
Hamas said the truce would result in the lifting of a military blockade of the territory, which it took control of in 2007. Israeli officials were vague about that part of the agreement, which says the issue will be “dealt with” 24 hours after the truce starts, according to a version published by the foreign ministries of Israel and Egypt.
A senior Israeli official arrived in Cairo for talks to follow up the cease-fire accord, Egypt’s state-run Ahram Gate website reported yesterday.
Hamas applauded Iran for the assistance offered before and during the conflict.
“I thank those who provided the resistance with money and weapons, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Hamas leader Haniyeh said in a televised speech broadcast on Al Arabiya television.
Israel says Hamas must be prevented from rebuilding its weapons stockpiles through smuggling tunnels into Gaza.