Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered to help negotiate a ceasefire as Israel pounded Gaza on Thursday, killing seven people days after a suicide bombing claimed by Hamas rulers.
Hamas promptly rejected the offer, with spokesperson Fawzi Barhum branding it a ”blackmail attempt against the Palestinian people whom [Abbas] has left to be massacred”.
Escalating violence has now seen 20 Palestinians, mostly militants, killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza and several Israelis, including two young children, wounded by militant rocket attacks during the past week.
Abbas offered to help broker a ceasefire, his spokesperson said, amid fears that the violence could undermine recently revived peace talks.
”President Abbas is prepared to try to work towards a mutual ceasefire with Israel to stop the daily slaughter confronting the Palestinian people in Gaza,” Nabil Abu Rudeina said.
Abbas has repeatedly condemned both Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli strikes on Gaza, but he has little if any authority over the territory from which his security forces were ousted by Hamas in June 2007.
Israeli government spokesperson Avi Pazner said the government had not yet received the offer, but said it was up to Hamas to end the fighting.
”The most simple thing is for Hamas to end its attacks against Israel and then we will not have to take measures to respond to them,” he said.
In one air strike on Thursday four militants — three from the armed wing of Hamas and another from Islamic Jihad — were killed near Jabaliya in northern Gaza by a missile fired from a drone.
A second air raid killed two militants near Tuffah, also north of Gaza City, and wounded four more, two of them seriously, medics said.
Hamas said Israeli ground troops were also in the area, while an Israeli military spokesperson said only that ”an army operation is under way”.
A teacher was killed when a tank shell hit a high school in the northern town of Beit Hanun, wounding three students, medics said.
Hamas militants, meanwhile, launched at least 14 rockets and mortar bombs at Israel, with one lightly wounding two civilians, a day after two children aged two and four were wounded when a rocket hit their home in southern Israel.
Meanwhile, another Hamas fighter died of wounds inflicted during a Wednesday air strike.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday vowed that ”if the rocket fire from Gaza continues, we will intensify our operations and strikes against the other side, until a solution is found”.
Since Israelis and Palestinians renewed peace talks in late November after a seven-year freeze, at least 169 people have been killed in violence between the two sides, most of them militants in Gaza, according to an Agence France-Presse tally.
On Thursday Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned in a statement that ”concrete responses to the threats coming from Gaza must be given before creating a Palestinian state”.
Israel went on the offensive on Tuesday as Hamas — the Islamist movement that has ruled Gaza for the past seven months — claimed responsibility for the first suicide bombing inside Israel in a year.
It was the first time Hamas had claimed an attack since August 2004.
Twelve Gaza militants have been killed since Monday, all but one of them from Hamas, and the group has vowed revenge with rocket and mortar fire.
Israel has been on alert since Monday’s bombing in the southern desert town of Dimona that killed one woman and wounded nearly a dozen other people. — AFP