Palestinian gov’t backs Abbas ceasefire offer

GAZA (Agencies) — The Hamas-led Palestinian government endorsed on Monday President Mahmoud Abbas’ proposal for a ceasefire between fighters and Israel, a Cabinet spokesman said.

But a Hamas spokesman said the Islamist group’s agenda was separate from the government’s and the plan fell short of conditions the movement has set for a truce.

“The government conducted an in-depth and lengthy discussion of the proposal offered by Abbas. The government has expressed its support for a reciprocal, comprehensive and simultaneous calm,” Cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said.

Abbas proposed last week that Hamas and other groups halt rocket launchings from Gaza and Israel stop air strikes against them. According to the plan, the ceasefire would be extended to the occupied West Bank within a month.

The Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said the group was sticking to its demand that a truce go into effect simultaneously in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“It is neither logical nor acceptable that we leave the fate of our people in the West Bank hostage to the intentions of the occupation,” Barhoum said, referring to Israel.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rebuffed Abbas’ plan, saying on Sunday that Israel’s air strikes and limited ground operations against fighters in the Gaza Strip had led to a drop in rocket attacks from the territory and they would continue.

Israel has rejected the idea of a West Bank truce, saying its frequent raids to detain fighters were necessary to stop attacks on Israelis. Israel has said Hamas would use a lull to rearm.

Hamas and other groups have fired some 285 rockets from Gaza, killing two Israelis, since a surge of violence began on May 15, the Israeli military said.

Israeli air strikes have killed nearly 50 Palestinians, most of them fighters. Israel has also carried out limited ground operations in the Gaza Strip.


Israeli tanks roll into southern Gaza

Meanwhile, Israeli tanks and troops pushed deep into the southern Gaza Strip on Monday targeting Palestinian fighters in the first such ground operation into the area in months.

Soldiers took over two buildings and military bulldozers ripped up roads during the incursion around the town of Rafah, about two kilometres inside Palestinian territory, witnesses said.

“Armoured and infantry forces are searching the area for terrorist infrastructure. Several Palestinians have been detained for questioning,” an army spokesman told AFP.

According to Palestinian security sources, 20 people have so far been arrested in the raid.

Palestinian fighters in northern Gaza, meanwhile, fired several mortar rounds towards Israel, which struck near the Erez border crossing without causing casualties or damage, the army said. 

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