Gaza militants offer peace
Gaza City - Palestinian militant factions announced in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, after a week of bloody clashes with Israel, that they are committed to calming tensions if the Jewish state reciprocates.
Hamas official Ismael Radwan told reporters after a two-hour meeting with Islamic Jihad and other factions that "we are committed to calm as long as the occupation [Israel] commits to it".
The announcement comes a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready to act with "great force" in response to rocket and mortar fire, which sparked retaliation that killed eight Palestinians.
Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader, told AFP after the meeting that "everybody confirmed that they respect the national consensus by calming things with the Zionist enemy".
But he said this "depends on the nature of Israeli behaviour, and we insist on the need to respond immediately to each escalation by the occupiers".
And Osama al-Haj Ahmed, a Popular Front leader, said "the factions confirmed their commitment to national consensus in order not to give the aggressors any pretext" for attacking.
On Wednesday, Hamas had already pledged to restore calm in the coastal enclave.
Spokesperson Taher al-Nunu said "we will work to restore the field conditions that were prevalent over the last few weeks".
Avoiding new confrontations
He was referring to a de facto truce that was broken on March 16, when an Israeli air strike killed two Hamas militants in Gaza.
And Ismail Haniya, the Hamas premier in the enclave, said he had been making contacts with other factions "with a view to Gaza avoiding new confrontations with the Israeli occupation".
Netanyahu said Israel had been "subjected to bouts of terror and rocket attacks" and that "we stand ready to act with great force and great determination to put a stop to it".
"Any civilised society will not tolerate such wanton attacks on its civilians," he said.
Just before the Gaza meeting started, the Israeli army said, a rocket was fired from Gaza on the Israel town of Sderot, causing no casualties or damage.
Overnight, Gaza militants fired two rockets into Israel, with one damaging a house where Israeli media said eight sleeping people were unharmed.
Visiting the site, Israel's southern front commander Major General Tal Russo said it appeared that Hamas was unable to impose calm on Gaza.
"There is currently anarchy on the other side," the Ynet website quoted him as saying. "Hamas is finding it difficult to turn the clock back."
As Netanyahu spoke on Friday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak toured the Gaza border with army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, saying calm seemed to be returning to the area.
And he indicated that if the rocket attacks stopped, Israel would also halt its strikes into Gaza.
"We don't intend to let the terror organisations again disturb the order but we will do all we need to to return the [military] activity to the border line itself," Barak said.
In other developments, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas held positive talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Hamas officials to discuss efforts to reconcile his Fatah party with Hamas, sources on both sides said.
Last week, Abbas responded favourably to a Hamas invitation to talks that would end the split and lead to the formation of an interim government.
Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads since the early 1990s. Tensions boiled over in 2007, when the enmity erupted into bloodshed that saw the Islamists kick their secular rivals out of Gaza.
Since then, Gaza has been effectively cut off from the West Bank, which is under the control of Fatah, and repeated attempts at reconciliation between the groups have led nowhere.
The disunity of the Palestinians has prevented them from taking a common stance in peace talks with Israel, which are now off the table.
In Israel this week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Washington firmly backed Israel's right to respond both to the rocket fire and to a Jerusalem bus bombing on Wednesday, which he described as "repugnant acts".
But he suggested Israel should tread carefully or risk derailing the course of popular unrest sweeping Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East.
Israel's leaders have appeared reluctant to be dragged into another bloody war with Hamas, especially as they lack international support for any new offensive on Gaza.