Israel strike kills 2 in Gaza after call for calm

Palestinian militants were ready to calm tensions if Israel reciprocated.

Last Updated: Mar 27, 2011, 13:58 PM IST

Gaza City: An Israeli air strike killed two people in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, medics said, a day after Palestinian militants said they were committed to calming tensions if Israel reciprocated.

"Two Palestinians were killed and another wounded on Sunday morning in an Israeli air raid on targets east of Jabaliya," said Adham Abu Senmya, spokesman for the Gaza emergency services.

The Army could not immediately confirm the report.

On Saturday, after a week of bloody clashes with Israel that killed eight Palestinians, militants led by the Hamas rulers of Gaza met and declared they wanted to restore calm in the coastal enclave.

Hamas official Ismail Radwan told reporters after a two-hour meeting with Islamic Jihad and other factions that "we are committed to calm as long as the occupation (Israel) commits to it”.

There was no immediate reaction from the Israeli government to the militants` statement, but the cabinet is due to meet later Sunday morning.

On Friday, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready to act with "great force" in response to rocket and mortar fire, which sparked retaliation from Israel.

Netanyahu said Israel had been "subjected to bouts of terror and rocket attacks" and that "we stand ready to act with great force and great determination to put a stop to it”.

Following Saturday`s meeting in Gaza City, Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader, said that "everybody confirmed that they respect the national consensus by calming things with the Zionist enemy”.

But he said this "depends on the nature of Israeli behaviour, and we insist on the need to respond immediately to each escalation by the occupiers."

And Osama al-Haj Ahmed, a Popular Front leader, said "the factions confirmed their commitment to national consensus in order not to give the aggressors any pretext" for attacking.

On Wednesday, Hamas had already pledged to restore calm in the coastal enclave.

Spokesman Taher al-Nunu said "we will work to restore the field conditions that were prevalent over the last few weeks”.

He was referring to a de facto truce that was broken on March 16, when an Israeli air strike killed two Hamas militants in Gaza.

Just before the Gaza meeting started, the Israeli Army said, a rocket was fired from Gaza on the Israel town of Sderot, causing no casualties or damage.

And Gaza militants fired two rockets into Israel on Friday night, with one damaging a house where Israeli media said eight sleeping people were unharmed.

Visiting the site, Israel`s southern front commander Major General Tal Russo said it appeared that Hamas was unable to impose calm on Gaza.

"There is currently anarchy on the other side," the Ynet website quoted him as saying. "Hamas is finding it difficult to turn the clock back."

Defence Minister Ehud Barak toured the Gaza border on Friday with Army Chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, saying calm seemed to be returning to the area.

And he indicated that if the rocket attacks stopped, Israel would also halt its strikes into Gaza.

"We don`t intend to let the terror organisations again disturb the order but we will do all we need to return the (military) activity to the border line itself," Barak said.

In Israel last week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Washington firmly backed Israel`s right to respond both to the rocket fire and to a Jerusalem bus bombing on Wednesday, which he described as "repugnant acts”.

But he suggested Israel should tread carefully or risk derailing the course of popular unrest sweeping Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East.

Israel`s leaders have appeared reluctant to be dragged into another bloody war with Hamas, especially as they lack international support for any new offensive on Gaza.

Bureau Report