Rockets threaten Gaza ceasefire

A volley of rockets has been fired into southern Israel from Gaza, hours after 
a unilateral Israeli ceasefire began.

At least four out of seven rockets landed near the town of Sderot, with no 
reports of injuries. Israel launched an air strike on Gaza in response.

The exchange puts an immediate strain on the ceasefire, which followed three 
weeks of fighting.

Palestinian medics say at least 50 bodies have been pulled from the rubble 
since Israel halted its offensive.

Israel says it will not set a timetable for withdrawing its troops, but Hamas 
said it would not accept any Israeli presence in Gaza.

"We can't talk about a timetable for withdrawal until we know the ceasefire is 
holding," said the Israeli prime minister's spokesman, Mark Regev.

"If there is a danger Hamas is going to deliberately torpedo the ceasefire, and 
we will have to reinitiate offensive actions against Hamas, for that reason we 
have to be reticent about withdrawing our forces," he said.

The stopping of rocket-fire had been a chief aim of the military campaign.

Israeli troops killed a Palestinian near the southern Gazan town of Khan Younis 
on Sunday morning, reports from Gaza said. If confirmed, the death would be the 
first fatality since the ceasefire began.

At least 1,300 Palestinians, according to Palestinian sources, and 13 Israelis 
have been killed since Israel launched its offensive on 27 December.

Egyptian summit

Shortly before the rockets fell, Israeli troops briefly traded fire with Hamas 
militants in the north of the Gaza Strip after coming under attack, Israeli 
military officials said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the latest attacks "again proved that 
the ceasefire is fragile and it has to be reassessed on a minute-by-minute 

Heads of state from across Europe are joining Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and UN chief Ban Ki-moon at the 
Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh for a summit aimed at shoring up the 

They will discuss how to make the ceasefire durable and respected by Hamas, how 
to get aid to Gaza and beginning the process of rebuilding there.

But the BBC's Laura Trevelyan, who is at the resort, says with neither Israel 
or Hamas attending, there are questions about how much can be achieved and 
whether this will amount to more than a gigantic photo opportunity by those who 
want to help resolve the conflict .

Olmert warning

The rockets were fired at about 0900 (0700 GMT), Israeli police said.

Israeli aircraft struck the militants who launched the rockets from the 
northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, the military said.

Hours earlier, Prime Minister Olmert told the nation that Israel was halting 
its offensive whose goals "have been more than fully achieved".

In a televised address, Mr Olmert warned militants in Gaza that if they "decide 
the blows they've been dealt are not sufficient and they are interested in 
continuing the fight, Israel will be prepared for such and feel free to 
continue to react with force".

The ceasefire came into effect at 0200.

Hamas has rejected the move, saying any continued Israeli presence in Gaza 
would be regarded as an act of war.

"The occupier must halt his fire immediately and withdraw from our land and 
lift his blockade and open all crossings and we will not accept any one Zionist 
soldier on our land, regardless of the price that it costs," Hamas spokesman 
Farzi Barhoum said, shortly before the ceasefire began.

Mr Abbas said the ceasefire was "important and necessary but insufficient", and 
called for a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Israel has begun pulling some of its troops out of the territory, says the 
BBC's Katya Adler in Jerusalem.

But it says others will remain for now and strike back if Israel continues to 
come under attack.

The US has welcomed the ceasefire, saying it "expects that all parties will 
cease attacks and hostile actions immediately".

Secretary General Ban expressed relief, saying the ceasefire should be "the 
first step leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza".

Aid organisations have expressed concern that crossings into Gaza will not 
reopen fully unless Hamas is committed to a ceasefire.

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says the question now is whether Hamas 
decides to lick its wounds and regroup - or whether it gambles on dragging 
Israel into a war of attrition.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/01/18 12:19:30 GMT


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