GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories – An Israeli air strike killed two Gaza militants on Sunday, threatening to prompt more tit-for-tat attacks a day after militants committed to calm if Israel reciprocated.
“Two Palestinians were killed and another wounded Sunday morning in an Israeli air raid on targets east of Jabaliya,” said Gaza emergency services spokesman Adham Abu Selmiya.
Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigade, claimed the men as its own and said it would respond to the “crime” against them.
“The lives of our martyrs will not be wasted,” a statement said. “We will answer this crime against our mujahedeen in the right time and place.”
An army spokeswoman said “an air force plane attacked on Sunday morning a terrorist cell that was preparing to fire a rocket at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip.”
On Saturday, after a week of clashes with Israel that killed eight Palestinians, militants led by Gaza’s Hamas rulers declared they wanted to restore calm in the coastal enclave.
Hamas official Ismail Radwan told reporters after a meeting with Islamic Jihad and other factions that “we are committed to calm as long as the occupation (Israel) commits to it.”
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said “Israel won’t accept this (rocket) fire and will continue to act to foil it with whatever means are needed.
“This morning, too, we hit a cell that was preparing a launch against Israel. We have no interest in escalating the incidents and it is important to allow (Israeli citizens) to live their normal lives.”
Beforehand, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel “will not tolerate an attack on its civilians.”
“In the past two weeks there have been elements that have been trying to violate the calm and security. We have no interest in escalating the situation, but will not hesitate employing the (army) against anyone who attacks our people.”
On Friday, Netanyahu had said Israel was ready to act with “great force” in response to rocket and mortar attacks.
Following Saturday’s meeting, Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader, told AFP that “everybody confirmed that they respect the national consensus by calming things with the Zionist enemy.”
But he said this “depends on the nature of Israeli behaviour, and we insist on the need to respond immediately to each escalation by the occupiers.”
Just before the Gaza meeting started, the army said, a rocket was fired from Gaza on the Israel town of Sderot, causing no casualties or damage.
And Gaza militants fired two rockets into Israel on Friday night, with one damaging a house where Israeli media said eight sleeping people were unharmed.
Visiting the site, Israel’s southern front commander Major General Tal Russo said it appeared Hamas was unable to impose calm on Gaza.
“There is currently anarchy on the other side,” the Ynet website quoted him as saying. “Hamas is finding it difficult to turn the clock back.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s military confirmed it began deploying Sunday its multi-million-dollar “Iron Dome” missile defence system in the south, with a first battery at Beersheva.
In Israel last week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Washington firmly backed Israel’s right to respond both to the rocket fire and to a deadly Jerusalem bus bombing on Wednesday, which he described as “repugnant acts.”
But he suggested Israel should tread carefully or risk derailing the course of popular unrest sweeping Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East.
Israel’s leaders have appeared reluctant to be dragged into another bloody war with Hamas, especially as they lack international support for any new offensive on Gaza.
Reacting to persistent attacks from Gaza, Israel launched a three-week assault on the strip over New Years 2009, in which some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.