Saturday, June 23, 2018

Israel, Hamas continue violence along Gaza border despite cease-fire

TEL AVIV, Israel — Despite a pledged cease-fire agreement between Hamas and Israel, attacks escalated on both sides of the Gaza border on Saturday, killing at least three Palestinian men and a 6-year-old boy in Gaza, and wounding an Israeli man in Sderot, officials said.

Ayman Taha, a spokesman for the Hamas government, which rules Gaza, said Saturday night that the Egyptian-brokered agreement, reached Thursday, did not specify "a certain hour for the cease-fire to take effect."

"We will be committed to the cease-fire as long as Israel does," he said by telephone. "When Israel stops its aggression, our responses to it will stop as well."

Spokesmen for the Israel Defense Forces and for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not discuss the cease-fire. But as two dozen rockets rained down on the weary neighborhoods near Gaza City, the Israeli military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, called a rare Sabbath meeting of top aides to "determine the next course of action," according to a military spokeswoman.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, was briefed by Gantz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and told them "to do what needs to be done to protect Israel's population," a senior aide said.

The renewed fighting comes just after the fifth anniversary of Hamas' taking full control of the Gaza Strip, and amid an internal struggle for leadership.

Until last week, Hamas had largely adhered to an informal cease-fire for more than a year, although militant Palestinian factions had frequently fired rockets into southern Israel.

This latest flare-up began Monday with the killing of an Israeli construction worker building a fence along the border with Egypt, and attacks continued over the next two days.

Tensions had cooled by Thursday but picked up early Saturday morning, when Israel struck two Hamas sites in the northern Gaza Strip and one in the south. In the afternoon, the military spokeswoman said, two suspected terrorists "about to launch rockets at Israel" were directly targeted in separate attacks.

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