Violence flared around the Gaza Strip on Thursday on the eve of an expiry of a truce but Israel stressed it would not rush into a major military operation in the besieged Palestinian territory.
Militants in the Gaza Strip fired a new volley of rocket and mortar fire at dawn after Israel launched two air raids overnight, killing a Palestinian in the Hamas-ruled coastal strip.
The Israeli army said nine rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel without causing any damage or casualties.
The violence further fuelled tension ahead of the conclusion of a six-month truce that started on June 19 after months of mediation by Egypt.
The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), which rules Gaza, has spoken out against renewing the truce but suggested it was yet to announce its final decision.
Israeli authorities on the other hand have said they want the truce to continue despite a recent surge in violence in and around the territory, which has been under Hamas control since June last year.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak did raise the spectre of a military intervention, but made it clear he saw no urgency.
“We are not afraid of launching a large-scale military operation in Gaza but there is no need to rush into it,” he said, but added: “When the situation requires us to, we will act.”
Israel and Hamas have accused each other of violating the truce that was negotiated through Egyptian intermediaries as the Jewish state boycotts the Islamists as a terrorist outfit.
The Israeli government says it is up to Hamas to stop attacks often carried out by smaller Palestinian factions, while the Islamists insist Israel must lift its blockade of the impoverished territory.
Israel has responded to a flare-up of violence that erupted in early November by repeatedly closing its crossing points into Gaza, halting deliveries of humanitarian aid and other basic supplies.
Shortages caused by the closures have forced to United Nations to suspend its distribution of food assistance to about half of Gaza’s 1,5 million population, the UN Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA) said on Thursday.
“Due to the ongoing crisis with irregular border access and the lack of wheat flour in Gaza, UNRWA has exhausted all stocks of flour in its warehouses,” the agency said.
“Wheat supplies scheduled to arrive in Gaza from December 9 to 10 were unable to enter due to rocket fire, hence the mills have run out of flour and UNRWA has been forced to suspend food distribution,” it said.
Rockets have rained down on southern Israel on an almost daily basis since November 4, and Israeli forces killed 18 Palestinians in Gaza, almost all of them militants, in that period.
On Wednesday Gaza militants fired a barrage of rocket fire. Two people sustained shrapnel wounds and several cars were damaged when one of the rockets exploded in the parking lot of a large supermarket in Sderot, an Israeli city just outside Gaza which is often targeted.
Israeli armed forces responded with two air raids which targeted metal workshops in the towns of Jabaliya and Khan Yunis. — AFP