Israel keeps Gaza crossings shut after rocket attacks

Israel kept three border crossings with the Gaza Strip closed on Wednesday following rocket attacks that breached a truce with the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers, a military spokesman said.

“We are keeping the Karni, Sufa and Nahal Oz crossings closed for the time being following the firing of rockets in flagrant violation of the truce deal,” said spokesperson Peter Lerner.

He said however that while the goods terminals were closed, the Erez passenger crossing remained open.

Three rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit southern Israel on Tuesday, slightly wounding two people and straining an Egyptian-brokered truce.

Two of the rockets struck inside the hard-hit town of Sderot, causing some damage, and another slammed into a field outside town.

The rockets were the first to be fired from the Palestinian territory since a truce between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers went into effect on June 19.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The group, which was responsible for regularly firing rockets and mortar rounds at southern Israel in the months leading to the ceasefire, had not agreed to the truce but had vowed not to violate it.

Tuesday’s attacks came hours after Israeli troops killed a senior Islamic Jihad fighter and another man in Nablus, in the occupied West Bank which is not included in the truce agreement.

“Any fire from the Gaza Strip is a gross violation of the understanding reached with Egypt,” said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesperson Mark Regev.

Hamas blamed Israel for Tuesday’s violence, saying it had “provoked” Palestinian armed factions with the killing of the two men in Nablus.

But Regev insisted the Islamist movement bore responsibility for any attack from Gaza since “unfortunately, it seized power there one year ago”.

He said the attacks violated “two cardinal points of the understandings reached through Egypt, namely that the truce applies only to the Gaza Strip and not to the West Bank and that it concerns all armed groups”.

Olmert on Tuesday held talks in Egypt with President Hosni Mubarak on the truce and a parallel track of indirect talks with Hamas aimed at securing a prisoner swap for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Egypt played a key role as mediator in brokering the ceasefire as Israel rejects direct contact with Hamas, which it blacklists as a terrorist group. Hamas in turn does not recognise the Jewish state.

The truce, which called on Israel to cease all military operations in Gaza and for Palestinian militants to halt their near-daily rocket and mortar attacks, also called for the easing of a year-long blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel has started increasing the amount of goods allowed into Gaza, but Wednesday’s closures halted all shipments to the impoverished territory where a majority of the 1,5-million population depend on foreign aid.

Egypt told Israel that it will keep its Rafah crossing with Gaza closed until the fate of Shalit is resolved, a senior Israeli official said.

But Mubarak chided Israel, saying it was unrealistic to link Shalit’s release to the truce. - AFP

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