The armed wing of Hamas, the radical Islamist group which controls the Gaza Strip, said on Wednesday that it was ready to accept an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel with immediate effect, provided the Jewish nation also did the same.
The al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement that its parent group Hamas and all other allied "resistance factions" were committed to halt three days of fighting "as long as the occupation [Israel] stops this aggression."
"Our confrontation with the enemy in this round was at the minimal level of fire and responses, this is a message that [Israeli] leaders should understand very well," the militant group said, acknowledging that its fighters had fired at least 96 rockets and nine mortars into southern Israel since Monday.
The statement comes after at least eight Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes since Monday. Also, several Israelis have injured in retaliatory rocket fire by various militant factions in Gaza, including the al-Qassam Brigades.
The latest round of hostilities were triggered after an Israeli worker and a suspected terrorist were killed on Monday in an exchange of fire with Israeli security forces near the Jewish State's southern border with Egypt. The fighting erupted after Palestinian militants ambushed a convoy of construction workers building a security fence near the Red Sea resort town of Eilat.
Israeli military said Monday's attack was carried out by a Salafist group which it described as "a global jihad terror movement that is responsible for ongoing terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers." It has since confirmed the death of one of the militants responsible for that attack in an air strike in the southern town of Rafah on Wednesday.
The latest clashes come after a relative lull in Israel-Gaza fighting after Palestinian militant factions and Israeli authorities agreed to the Egypt-mediated truce agreement in March.
Nevertheless, the informal ceasefire has been violated on several occasions in recent weeks, with Gaza militants firing rockets into southern Israel as well as launching cross-border attacks. Israel generally responds harshly to such attacks by launching a wave of air strikes on suspected militant targets in Gaza.
Israel imposed a blockade in Gaza after Hamas came to power in the Palestinian territory in June 2007, ousting secularist Fatah party led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas.
Nonetheless, Israel recently eased its land blockade of the coastal strip, bowing to international pressures over a deadly Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May 2010. Israel, however, still continues with its naval blockade and insists that it will continue to ban or restrict shipments of materials that could have military uses.
Israel and the West consider Hamas a terrorist organization due to its refusal to give up violence and recognize Israel. They refuse to engage in negotiations with Hamas, prefer to channel their aid to the Palestinians through Fatah-led Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank.
by RTT Staff Writer
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