A boy stands next to a burned cars following Saturday night's rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, southern Israel AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Gaza militants offer ceasefire as attacks continue

Ten people have died this weekend in some of the worse violence in the area in months.

A GAZA STRIP militant group spearheading a recent campaign of rocket barrages into Israel has offered a cease fire, on the understanding that Israel also lays down its weapons.

Israel said it did not want the violence to escalate but warned it would not hesitate to defend itself.

The rocket fire has provoked retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, and on Saturday, nine militants and an Israeli civilian were killed in some of the worst violence in the area in months.

The exchange of fire continued overnight, with Palestinians firing 10 rockets into Israel in the early hours of the morning, and Israeli aircraft targeting six militant sites in Gaza, the military said. No casualties were reported by either side.

Egypt had been mediating truce efforts over the weekend, and late this morning, the Islamic Jihad militant group said it was ready to halt its attacks if Israel would halt its air strikes.

“When all jet fighters leave the skies of Gaza we will stop firing rockets,” said Dawud Shehab, a senior member of Islamic Jihad.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not formally address the Islamic Jihad offer. In a statement carried on Israel Radio, he said his country “does not want things to deterioriate”, but would defend itself against anyone who would attack it.

Defence officials said the Israeli military was holding back in an effort to keep the violence from escalating further. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss military operations.

The latest round of violence was set off by a rocket attack earlier in the week.

Both sides, meanwhile, had braced for further strikes.

As a precautionary measure, Israeli officials closed schools in southern communities within 25 miles of Gaza, as well as Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba and several colleges, which were to have begun their academic year on Sunday, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Police brought in reinforcements from other areas of the country.

More than 1 million Israelis live within the range of rockets possessed by Gaza militants.

In Gaza, militants who had been emboldened to remove their masks and emerge from their hideouts following a high-profile prisoner swap with Israel earlier in the month disappeared from the streets again. And the territory’s ruling Hamas movement scaled back its police deployment, apparently afraid that police positions would be targeted by Israeli aircraft.

Hamas militants are not believed to be involved in the attacks, which were claimed by smaller factions. But Israel holds Hamas ultimately responsible for all violence against it emanating from the territory.

Associated Foreign Press
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