GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Militants in Hamas-ruled Gaza fired salvoes of rockets into southern Israel on Sunday, defying a unilateral cease fire called by Israel and threatening to reignite three weeks of violence that has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians and turned Gaza’s street into battlegrounds.
The Islamic militant Hamas has been battered badly by the Israeli onslaught, and it was not clear how seriously it intended to try to jeopardize the cease-fire. The rocket fire resumed as a slew of foreign leaders headed to Egypt to try to cement an end to the war.
In Gaza, people loaded vans and donkey carts with mattresses and began venturing back to their homes to see what was left standing after the punishing air and ground assault the tiny seaside territory endured. Bulldozers began shoving aside rubble in Gaza City, the territory’s biggest population center, to clear a path for cars while medical workers sifting through mounds of concrete discovered dozens of bodies in the debris.
Israel quieted its guns and grounded its attack aircraft before reaching a long-term solution to the problem of arms smuggling into Gaza and Israel’s declaration that it would keep soldiers in Gaza until militants hold their fire raised the prospect of further clashes with Hamas, which has said it would fight on until Israel pulls out.
The cease-fire went into effect at 2 a.m local time after 22-days of fighting that killed some 1,200 Palestinians, about half of them civilians. Thirteen Israeli’s also died.
Israel decided to hold its fire just days ahead of Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday as president of the United States. Outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration welcomed Israel’s decision.
Israel originally said it would continue its offensive until it received international guarantees that Hamas would not rearm, as militants did during a 6-month truce that preceded the war. In a step toward achieving those guarantees, Israel on Friday won a U.S. commitment to help crack down on weapons smuggling into Egypt and from there, to Gaza.
But Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Saturday that his country would not be bound by the agreement. Egypt’s cooperation is essential if the smuggling is to be stopped.