The militant Hamas group said today it remained committed to a ceasefire with Israel but would not be Israel’s “police force” in dealing with splinter groups continuing the offensive.
The declaration by Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya came after three rockets were fired into southern Israel, wounding two Israelis in the first attack since the truce came in last Thursday.
Israel responded by closing Gaza’s border crossings, which are used to deliver food and basic supplies into the area.
Hamas said it was exerting pressure on Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for the attack, to stop the rocket fire and demanded that Israel open the crossings.
Mr al-Haya said its forces would not, however, confront rocket-launching squads on the ground.
“Even if there is a violation by some factions, Hamas emphasises its commitment to the calm and is working to implement the calm,” he said.
“But Hamas is not going to be a police securing the border of the occupation,” he added. “No one will enjoy a happy moment seeing Hamas holding a rifle in the face of a resistance fighter.”
Israel called the rocket attack a “gross violation” of the Egypt-mediated truce. As part of the ceasefire, Israel had begun incrementally increasing the number of goods entering Gaza. Today all cargo crossings were closed, though a pedestrian passage was kept open.
Hamas government spokesman Taher Nunu said the closure was a “clear violation of the calm” and called on Egypt, which mediated the truce, to intervene. “We will not accept leaving our people hostages to this policy,” he said.
Islamic Jihad said the rocket attack was a response to an Israeli raid on the West Bank that killed an Islamic Jihad commander. The West Bank is not included in the truce. Islamic Jihad and other Gaza factions reluctantly agreed to the truce but were angered that the deal did not include an end to Israeli West Bank operations.
Many previous Israeli-Palestinian truces have unravelled in such ways, with minor violence gradually escalating and spiralling out of control.
But both sides were eager to keep the latest fragile deal intact, with Hamas wanting to solidify its hold over the territory it overran last year by reopening the crossings and Israel hoping to bring quiet to southern areas where life has been paralysed by the rocket attacks.