JERUSALEM –(Agencies: 18/1/2009): Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire in the Gaza Strip on Sunday meant to end three devastating weeks of war against Hamas militants, but just hours later militants fired a volley of rockets into southern Israel, officials said, threatening to reignite the violence.
No one was injured in the assault in which five rockets were fired and four landed. But shortly afterward, security sources in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun reported an airstrike that wounded a woman and her child. The Israeli military had no comment.
In another incident after the truce took hold, militants fired small arms at an infantry patrol, which directed artillery and aircraft to strike back, the military said.
"Israel will only act in response to attacks by Hamas, either rockets into Israel or firing upon our forces," government spokesman Mark Regev said. "If Hamas does deliberately torpedo this cease-fire, they are exposing themselves before the entire international community as a group of cynical extremists that have absolutely no interest in the well-being of the people of Gaza."
Regev would not say what level of violence would provoke Israel to call off the truce.
The cease-fire went into effect at 2 a.m. Sunday local time after three weeks of fighting that killed some 1,200 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. At least 13 Israelis also died, according to the government.
LONG TERM SOLUTION:
Israel stopped its offensive before reaching a long-term solution to the problem of arms smuggling into Gaza, one of the war’s declared aims. And Israel’s insistence on keeping soldiers in Gaza raised the prospect of a stalemate with the territory’s Hamas rulers, who have said they would not respect any truce until Israel pulls out.
The cease-fire went into effect just days ahead of President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday. Outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration welcomed Israel’s decision and a summit set for later Sunday in Egypt is meant to give international backing to the truce.
Leaders of Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Italy, Turkey and the Czech Republic — which holds the rotating European Union presidency — are expected to attend along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon.
Ban welcomed the Israeli move and called on Hamas to stop its rocket fire. "Urgent humanitarian access for the people of Gaza is the immediate priority," he said, declaring that "the United Nations is ready to act."
It was not immediately clear whether Israel would send a representative to the meeting in Egypt, and Hamas, shunned widely as a terrorist organization, has not been invited.
In announcing the truce late Saturday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would withhold fire after achieving its goals and more.