Israel army told to stop Gaza rockets

Jerusalem - Israel has authorised its military to take all necessary steps to stop rocket fire from Gaza, including a ground operation, an Israeli military official said on Tuesday, as Egypt worked on a truce and said Israel had agreed to delay stepping up its response.

The Israeli government decision stopped well short of ordering tanks to roll into Gaza, and it appeared unlikely that would happen, as rocket fire all but stopped over the past day. The official said the decision authorised the military to take proportionate measures, meaning that a ground offensive would be ordered only after massive rocket fire.

The Israeli official spoke on condition of anonymity because no statement was made.

Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority said on Tuesday that Egypt obtained an Israeli pledge to hold its fire while efforts were under way to persuade Palestinian militants to stop the rocket barrages.

The sudden spike in violence began when militants in Gaza started firing salvos at Israel late last week, and Israeli retaliated with airstrikes. One Israeli civilian and at least Palestinian 10 militants were killed in the worst violence on that front in months.

The confrontation threatened to spiral into a larger conflict, and Egypt stepped in to try to restore calm.

"In the past few hours, Egypt saved Gaza from severe destruction and succeeded in securing Israeli restraint to give Egyptians time to reach a cease-fire agreement with Palestinian factions," Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Othman, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

On Monday, Netanyahu warned from the podium of the Israeli parliament that Israel would operate "vigorously and resolutely" against those who would threaten its security.

"A security philosophy cannot rely on defence alone," Netanyahu said. "It must also include offensive capabilities, the very foundation of deterrence."

Schools closed

Mark Regev, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel's position has not changed.

The military said there have been no Israeli airstrikes since around midnight on Monday. Two rockets were fired from Gaza during that time. The relative calm prevailed through Tuesday afternoon.

The rocket attacks have disrupted life in southern Israel, forcing schools to close. About 1 million Israelis live within range of rockets from Gaza.

The Islamic Jihad faction was behind the initial rocket attacks. On Sunday the militant faction agreed to stop the violence if Israel also did. Rocket fire that drew retaliatory Israeli airstrikes persisted afterwards, but it was claimed by a different militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Gaza's ruling Hamas group, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in past violence, has not directly been involved in the attacks. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all violence from the territory.

Also Tuesday, Hamas said the Israeli military arrested one of its leaders in the West Bank, Hassan Youssef. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri called the move "a dangerous Israeli escalation against Hamas and against one of the symbols of the elected Palestinian legitimacy".

Youssef, a member of the Palestinian parliament, was released from an Israeli prison in August after serving six years.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since taking it over in June 2007 during a civil war with its rival, Fatah. The West Bank is governed by the Palestinian Authority, run by President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who, unlike Hamas, favours a negotiated settlement with Israel.


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