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Israel orders resumption of Gaza strikes

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 17:36 IST
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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the army on Wednesday to resume strikes on Palestinian militants in Gaza after a rocket attack wounded two Israeli teenagers despite a month-long truce.

After meeting with top security officials, Olmert ordered the army to resume attacks on rocket launching cells in the coastal strip in the face of continuing breaches of a truce that went into effect on November 26.

Just hours after the Israeli decision, Palestinians again fired a rocket towards southern Israel, but which, according to the army, fell inside Gaza.

"Over the past few days terrorist cells in the Gaza Strip have increased Qassam fire towards Israeli towns even though Israel has agreed on a ceasefire and has not responded over the past month to the ceasefire violations," Olmert's office said in a statement.

"Under these circumstances, the defense establishment was instructed to take pinpointed action against Qassam rocket cells," it said, referring to the homemade rockets launched by Palestinian militants in Gaza.

"At the same time, Israel will continue keeping the ceasefire and will work together with the Palestinian Authority in order for them to take immediate steps to stop the Qassam fire," it said.

The army received the green light to strike either just before or just after rockets are fired, Israeli officials said.

It would not, however, launch ground operations or resume targetted killings of militants.

The Israeli leader convened Wednesday's emergency security meeting after two Israeli teenagers were wounded, one of them seriously, in a rocket attack on the southern town of Sderot on Tuesday evening.

Most of the other rockets fired into Israel since the start of the truce a month ago had fallen without causing injuries or damage.

Olmert met on Wednesday morning with visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, who "expressed his deep appreciation for the Israeli restraint and its contribution to strenghtening moderate Palestinian elements," Olmert's office said.

In Gaza City, the ultra-radical Islamic Jihad group, which has fired most of the rockets toward Israel despite the truce, vowed to continue the strikes.

"The firing against the settlements near Gaza Strip continue and we will intensify them if the enemy continues to commit its crimes, its arrests, its assassinations, its destruction on our land and its policy of collective punishment," the group said in a statement.

"Our message to you is the following: immediately cease your aggression in the West Bank and in Gaza or you will help in more rocket fire against Sderot and Ashkelon" in southern Israel.

Under a truce agreed upon between the Israeli army and Palestinian militants on November 26, Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza and gunmen were supposed to stop firing rockets into the Jewish state.

Since then, more than 60 rockets have been fired into Israel, causing little damage, and one Palestinian was killed and at least three wounded by Israeli fire in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority urged all sides on Wednesday to respect the truce, saying it was in the interests of both sides to do so.

"We have asked all factions to respect the truce as it is in the interests of all the Palestinians, and Olmert must realize that violence cannot but beget violence," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

"We ask the Quartet (the European Union, Russia, United States and European Union, which have been striving to revive the Middle East peace process) to intervene before the situation becomes dangerous," he said.

The Palestinian government led by the Islamist party Hamas also called for continued restraint on all sides.

"We reject these Israeli threats," Ghazi Hamad, government spokesman, told the agency in Gaza City.

"There is still a ceasefire agreement, around which we assembled all the Palestinian factions, and all parties should respect it."

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