Hours after an Israeli unilateral cease-fire had begun in Gaza, militants fired four rockets into southern Israel and exchanged gunfire with Israeli troops.
Hamas operatives in the Beit Lahiya area shot at soldiers, who returned fire. An IAF helicopter then shot the gunmen, the IDF reported.
Qassam rockets were fired into Sderot at 9 a.m. — seven hours after Israel’s cease-fire went into effect. The rockets did not injure anyone, and Israeli aircrafts destroyed the rocket launcher soon afterward, an Israeli military spokesman said.
The gunfire exchange in northern Gaza occurred after Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli forces, the Israeli military said. Troops returned fire.
Saturday night, Israel announced a unilateral cease fire which began at midnight GMT. Sunday has been largely quiet.
But how long will the quiet last? That seems up to Hamas.
An Israeli soldier holds up an Israeli flag after leaving Gaza on Sunday.
Israeli soldiers celebrate after leaving the Gaza Strip into Israel, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009. Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire in the Gaza Strip on Sunday meant to end three devastating weeks of war against militants who have traumatized southern Israel for years with rocket attacks. But hours after the truce took hold, militants fired a volley of rockets into Israel, threatening to reignite the violence.(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
“Israel will only act in response to attacks by Hamas, either rockets into Israel or firing upon our forces,” government spokesman Mark Regev
said. “If Hamas does deliberately torpedo this cease-fire, they are exposing themselves before the entire international community as a group of cynical extremists that have absolutely no interest in the well-being of the people of Gaza.”
By John E. Carey
Wakefield Chapel, Virginia
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, left, shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, right, at a press conference following a meeting of the security cabinet at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009. Israel’s leaders voted late Saturday to halt an offensive that has killed nearly 1,200 people, turned the streets and neighborhoods of the Gaza Strip into battlegrounds and dealt a stinging blow to the Islamic militants of Hamas.(AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
The Associated Press reported:
Israel stopped its offensive before reaching a long-term solution to the problem of arms smuggling into Gaza, one of the war’s declared aims. And Israel’s insistence on keeping soldiers in Gaza raised the prospect of a stalemate with the territory’s Hamas rulers, who have said they would not respect any truce until Israel pulls out.
The military warned in a statement early Sunday that Israeli forces would retaliate for attacks against soldiers or civilians and that “any such attack will be met with a harsh response.”
The cease-fire went into effect just days ahead of President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday. Outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration welcomed Israel’s decision and a summit set for later Sunday in Egypt is meant to give international backing to the truce.
Leaders of Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Italy, Turkey and the Czech Republic — which holds the rotating European Union presidency — are expected to attend along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon.
Ban welcomed the Israeli move and called on Hamas to stop its rocket fire. “Urgent humanitarian access for the people of Gaza is the immediate priority,” he said, declaring that “the United Nations is ready to act.”
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How long can the Gaza cease fire last? Above: Women at a Tehran stadium last week hold portraits of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. Hezbollah declined to get involved in the Gaza conflict, despite entreaties by Hamas. Atta Kenare / AFP/Getty Images