Amid Escalation on Border |

Palestinian Militants Agree to Gaza Truce if Israel Ends All Military Operations

Minutes after the announcement, two rockets explode in open fields near Sderot; in statement released after meeting summoned by Hamas, groups stipulate ceasefire on Israel's ending of blockade on Gaza.

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The representatives of Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip announced an agreement to hold their fire on Monday, following days of persistent rocket attacks on the western Negev, however a matter of minutes later, two rockets were fired in open fields near Sderot. No casualties or damage reported.

In their statement, the groups conditioned the ceasefire with what they called "the end of Israeli aggression," the end to the Gaza blockade, adding that the "resistance has a right to respond to any Israeli breach."

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The statement, coming at the end of a meeting called by Hamas, added that the groups would preserve the ceasefire on their end, and that they expected Israel to do the same.

Earlier Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked Palestinian militants to cease mortar attacks against Israel and for Israel to exercise maximum restraint when taking retaliatory measures.

Ban said he "strongly condemned" the indiscriminate rocket attacks toward Israeli territory by Palestinian militants.

"Both sides should do everything to avoid further escalation and must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians at all times," he said.

Referring to the recent string of rocket attacks during a meeting with foreign envoys in the southern city of Ashkelon on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that, while the smaller Gaza groups were executing the launches, Hamas was "encouraging the fire and coordinating it between the different organizations."

When asked by one of the ambassadors present how Israel intended to respond to Gaza fire, the premier said: "We have different options, but I'm not going to share them with you."

Speaking at the same conference, Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter said that Israel "can't continue to accept a situation where the military terror entity called Gaza continues to exist between Israel and Egypt."

"11,000 rockets have been fired in the last decade," Dichter said, adding: "This isn't a terror organization any more, it's a bona fide army. What other country in the world would continue to experience and contain such a threat to a fifth of its population?"

Referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the minister said that Abbas' "silence proves again that we're in a three-state reality. Israel is going to have to reshape its deterrence with Gaza in a move that would leave no doubt."

Also referring to conflicts along the Gaza border, President Shimon Peres told CNN that the world must cut off funding to Hamas as long as the group is targeting civilians in Israel, urging Qatar, who recently invested in the Coastal Enclave, to defund Hamas' government.

Palestinian militants fired some 10 rockets at Israel over the course of the day, bringing to approximately 115 the number launched since Saturday. An Iron Dome battery intercepted two rockets over the Negev town of Ofakim on Monday night.

On Sunday, Iron Dome missiles intercepted two Grad rockets heading for Ashkelon, while a Qassam exploded in a residential yard in the southern city of Netivot and another scored a direct hit on a factory in its industrial zone. Three people have been wounded in the attacks since Saturday, and 20 more have been treated for shock.

The Iron Dome intercepted two more rockets during the latest escalation, one aimed at Be'er Sheva on Sunday, and one fired toward the Ashdod area the previous day.

The morning attacks brought an end to the brief overnight lull, as Egyptian intelligence officials tried to mediate a cease-fire between the two sides. The Israel Defense Forces have responded to the rocket fire with nine strikes on the Gaza Strip, killing at least five Palestinians and wounding dozens more.

The rocket barrage that began on Saturday followed an earlier anti-tank missile attack on an IDF jeep near the border with Gaza, which wounded four soldiers. The IDF responded to the jeep attack with shelling on the Gaza Strip, killing four Palestinians and wounding 36.

Speaking earlier Monday, Netanyahu said that Israel would not accept the ongoing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, telling a group of foreign reporters: "The world needs to understand that Israel has the right and duty to defend its citizens."

"We will act to stop the rocket fire," Netanyahu told a press conference, as the recent escalation of cross-border violence surged into a third day. "If an alarm is sounded, people in southern Israel- one million people - have 15 seconds to find shelter. I don't know if any of your governments will accept this reality. I cannot accept this."

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon warned Monday that Israel would toughen its response to the rocket fire, reiterating remarks made by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak over the last few days.

Israel has "a full box of tools ... that we have not yet used," Ya'alon told Army Radio. "We will need to toughen our response until Hamas says 'enough' and ends the fire."

Ya'alon admitted there was no "bang and we're done" solution and declined to say if Israel would return to a former policy of targeted killings of Gaza leaders.

"I am not calling for any one thing specifically," he said.

The European Union on Monday urged Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip to halt their fire.

Palestinian masked gunmen, belonging to the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), attendign a press conference in Gaza City on November 11, 2012. Credit: AFP



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