Gaza truce under fire after Israeli strike kills militant

AFP , Wednesday 24 Aug 2011

Israeli air strikes on Wednesday killed a Palestinian militant, prompting mortar fire into southern Israel just days after armed groups agreed to a temporary truce

Israeli raids on Gaza are still part of the political scence in Gaza despite the declared truce(Photo:Reuters)

Heightened tensions in and around the Gaza border raised fears of a fresh descent into violence scarcely 48 hours after militant factions agreed to end rocket fire on southern Israel on condition the air force also stopped its raids.

Ismael al-Ismar, 34, a leader in the Al Quds Brigades -- the armed wing of Islamic Jihad -- died when a missile ploughed into his car in the southern city of Rafah near the Egyptian border, witnesses and the militant group said.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the strike, saying it had targeted "an activist linked to Islamic Jihad who was implicated in attempted terrorist actions in the Sinai."

Israeli public radio linked Ismar to last week's militant attacks on southern Israel's border with Egypt which killed eight Israelis.

"(He) financed the attack in the south of the country last week and was responsible for financing a major attack that terrorists were planning to carry out in the near future," it reported.

Several hours after Ismar's death, two mortar shells hit the Eshkol region, which flanks the Israel-Gaza border, Israeli police said, in an attack claimed by the Al Quds Brigades.

The group said it had fired six shells towards the Kissufim border crossing, in response to Ismar's killing.

Immediately afterwards, the air force fired on "two terrorists who had fired rockets at Israel," the army said in a raid which Palestinian medics said moderately wounded two Islamic Jihad militants near Deir al-Balah.

The flare-up prompted Israel's Home Front command to order all residents living within rocket-range of the border to stay "within 15 seconds" of the nearest bomb shelter, media reports said.

The exchanges raised questions over the durability of a ceasefire agreement announced late Sunday following four days of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants, which killed 15 Palestinians and an Israeli.

The Egyptian-brokered truce was agreed to by Gaza's main militant groups including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and on Monday the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) also agreed to abide by it.

Several hours later, four rockets were fired over the border, but Israel did not respond, with the press attributing it to "small terror groups looking to challenge Hamas and demonstrate their independence."

In light of the developments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly to convene his 15-member security cabinet, which only two days ago agreed to limit Israel's response to hitting anyone poised to fire rockets over the Gaza border.

Netanhyahu's office declined to confirm to AFP whether a meeting was taking place. The secretive committee's meeting are not routinely listed by the cabinet office.

Last Thursday's ambushes sparked a wave of tit-for-tat attacks.

In the following days, Israeli air strikes killed 15 Gazans, 12 of them militants, the army sources said, and armed factions in Gaza lobbed more than 100 rockets and mortar shells across the border, killing one man.

During the hunt for Thursday's attackers, Cairo said five of its policemen had been shot dead by Israeli troops and has since reportedly put huge pressure on the Jewish state to curb its response in Gaza.

"This is a delicate situation and there is a real risk of endangering the (1979 Egyptian-Israeli) peace treaty, which is a precious strategic asset for Israel," Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in televised remarks late on Tuesday.

And a high-ranking military official told army radio that a stringent Israeli riposte in Gaza could have implications for the entire region.

"The whole Middle East is a powder keg and an Israeli action could have consequences for what is happening in Egypt, in Syria and in Libya," he said.

Israel on Tuesday sent a complaint to the United Nations on account of the Security Council's failure to condemn the desert attacks, after a statement to that effect was thwarted by Lebanon which objected to the use of the word "terrorism."

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