Egypt: Israel delaying expanding Gaza offensive

November 1, 2011 - 9:05 AM
Mideast Israel Palestinians

Rawhi Abdo, the father of Al-Ansar brigade militant Yousef Abu Abdo who was killed in an Israeli airstrike early Monday, reacts as he views his son's body at the morgue of Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. Israeli aircraft struck the southern Gaza Strip targeting rocket-launching militants, the military said Monday, and Palestinian officials reported that two men were found dead in the area. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — An Egyptian official said Tuesday that Israel has agreed to briefly delay expanding its military operations in the Gaza Strip to give Egypt time to try to persuade Palestinian militant factions to halt rocket fire on southern Israel.

Israeli aircraft have targeted rocket squads in Gaza in recent days, but the Egyptian official says Israel has also planned a wider operation. The official says Egypt asked for 24 hours to try to bring all factions into an informal cease-fire and Israel agreed to give Cairo until around midnight Tuesday.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss Egyptian mediation.

The Israeli defense ministry had no immediate comment.

The military said there have been no Israeli airstrikes since around midnight Monday. Two rockets were fired from Gaza during that time. The relative calm prevailed through Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned from the podium of the Israeli parliament that Israel would operate "vigorously and resolutely" against those who would threaten its security.

"A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone," Netanyahu said. "It must also include offensive capabilities, the very foundation of deterrence."

Netanyahu summoned his top leadership for a closed meeting to discuss Gaza on Tuesday afternoon.

The recent flare in violence has been the worst in the area in months, killing at least 10 militants and an Israeli civilian.

The attacks have disrupted life in southern Israel, forcing schools to close. About 1 million Israelis live within range of rockets from Gaza.

The Islamic Jihad faction had led the rocket attacks that began last week, but on Sunday agreed to stop the violence if Israel also did. Rocket fire that drew retaliatory Israeli airstrikes persisted afterward, but it was claimed by a different militant group, the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Gaza's ruling Hamas group, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in past violence, has not directly been involved in the attacks. But Israel holds Hamas responsible for all violence from the territory.

Hamas, meanwhile, said Tuesday that the Israeli military had arrested one of its leaders in the West Bank, Hassan Youssef, overnight in his Ramallah home. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the move "a dangerous Israeli escalation against Hamas and against one of the symbols of the elected Palestinian legitimacy."

Youssef was released from an Israeli prison in August after serving six years.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since taking it over in June 2007 during a civil war with its rival Fatah. The West Bank is governed by the Palestinian Authority, run by President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who unlike Hamas favors a negotiated settlement with Israel.