Israel rejects truce offer

A Palestinian child and Hamas militant were killed by Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip just hours after a spokesman for the ultra-radical Islamic Jihad extended the offer, following an overnight meeting between rival factions.

Four Palestinian rockets also exploded inside Israel in ongoing attacks on Friday, causing damage to a commercial centre in the southern town of Sderot.

Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya, head of the Western-boycotted Hamas government, reiterated on Friday that Israeli offensives should end “in order to allow factions to stop” rocket fire.

“There is a responsible Palestinian position and now the ball is in the Israeli court. They must stop aggressions and the escalation against the Palestinian people,” he told reporters after prayers in Gaza City.

But Israel was not playing ball, with government spokeswoman Miri Eisin describing it as a “partial ceasefire” impossible to take seriously.

“The suggestion concerns a partial ceasefire, limited to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in exchange for a total halt to Israeli operations on all fronts. This is not serious,” she told AFP.

“Israel has always aspired to an end to violence and we count on a change of attitude from the Palestinians and primarily Hamas in order to give development a priority in the Gaza Strip instead of continued attacks,” she added.

Two Israelis have been killed in Palestinian rocket attacks on the Jewish state in the last 10 days.

The army says more than a 1,000 such projectiles have landed in the country since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Israel has been operating inside the volatile Palestinian territory since late June, when militants captured a soldier in a daring cross-border raid, in a bid to retrieve the conscript and end the constant rocket menace.

“Our people are victim of a barbaric Israeli offensive that has left more than 400 dead and 1,500 wounded while thousands of homes have been destroyed,” Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared in Gaza City late Thursday.

“All that on the pretext of homemade rocket fire and unfortunately we are giving them such pretext,” he added at talks with his Fatah party.

After separate inter-faction talks, the Jihad spokesman said there was an agreement to stop rocket fire in exchange for a “halt to Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza”.

He said Abbas would transmit the idea to the Israelis, but a spokesman for Hamas and an independent MP both said there could be no way forward if Israel remained intransigent.
“There is no chance of a truce as long as the enemy aggression continues,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum.

Independent MP Mustapha Barghuti lashed out, branding the Israeli reaction “very discouraging”.

“Israel is responsible for the cycle of violence. Each time Palestinians want an end of violence, Israel refuses. Israel is the one that does not want to stop the cycle of violence,” he told AFP in Gaza City.

Haniya repeated the offer following fresh talks between Palestinian factions and despite Israel’s rejection, warning of his people’s right to defend themselves in the face of continued violence.

“We address Israelis to tell them of the necessity of ending their attacks against our people and take seriously this positive direction and the will that (Palestinian militant) groups have shown,” Haniya told journalists.

“If Israel wants to continue its occupation and attacks, the Palestinian people have no other choice but to defend themselves using the means they have,” he said.

Israeli troops have stepped up an air and ground offensive in the northern Gaza Strip in a bid to counter near daily Palestinian rocket attacks.

In addition to the two Palestinians killed in the territory on Friday, three Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded by an anti-tank missile during clashes in the northern Gaza Strip.