Hamas appeals to Israel for cease-fire
JERUSALEM — A senior member of Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement yesterday made a rare appeal to the Israeli public for a halt to the escalating cross-border fighting, telling an Israeli radio station in fluent Hebrew that Hamas is ready to stop its rocket fire if Israel ends its attacks on Gaza.
As nightfall approached, Gaza militants had fired about 10 rockets and mortar shells at Israel, police said, but Israel had not hit back.
At a meeting of Israel’s Security Cabinet, the military was told to “continue to operate against terrorists in order to stop the [rocket] fire on Israel.’’
Hamas’ deputy foreign minister, Ghazi Hamad, delivered the message to state-run Israel Radio. “We are interested in calm but want the Israeli military to stop its operations,’’ Hamad said in Hebrew.
Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, but Hamad and other leaders of the Islamic militant group learned Hebrew during time spent in Israeli prisons.
Other Hamas officials said they were in touch with mediators in hopes of restoring calm.
Israeli leaders sent mixed messages. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said if militants in Gaza cease their attacks, so would Israel. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a more combative tack. “If the attacks on Israeli citizens and soldiers continue, the response will be far harsher’’ than it has been, Netanyahu said.
Arab League leader Amr Moussa called on the UN to impose a no-fly zone over Gaza to protect Palestinians. It was unlikely the world body would take such action against Israel in light of the Hamas rocket attacks.
Since Thursday, Palestinians fired more than 120 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel, prompting Israeli reprisals that have killed 19 Palestinians and wounded 65 others. It has been the most intense fighting since a major Israeli offensive in the Palestinian territory ended in January 2009.