Israel says to cease air strikes if Hamas stops firing rockets

13:46, April 11, 2011      

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Both Israel and Hamas officials said over the weekend they will hold their fire if the other side does first.

"If they stop firing on our communities, we will stop firing," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio on Sunday, adding "If they stop firing in general, it will be quiet, it will be good."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, added a cautioning note to Barak's statement on Saturday night after conferring with military officials over possible responses to the surge in cross-border attacks between Palestinian militants and Israel.

"Even if we are not interested in an escalation," he was quoted as saying, "the response will be determined, harsh and ongoing," according to The Jerusalem Post newspaper.

Israeli air strikes since Thursday evening have killed 19 Palestinians, the majority armed militants or rocket firing crews, according to Palestinian and Israeli sources. Palestinian militants Thursday afternoon fired a Kornet anti-tank rocket at a school bus, critically wounding a student, and the driver, less severely.

The incessant Grad, Kassam and mortar fire by Palestinian militants has forced tens of thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters and protected rooms, stopping school systems, and limiting commerce and travel in roads near the coastal enclave.

Israel Air Force chief Maj.-Gen. Ido Nechushtan said Saturday that the Iron Dome anti-missile system had made what he called " world history," in successfully downing all eight Grad missiles it was aimed at since Thursday.

Two batteries are currently deployed near coastal Ashkelon, and Beersheba in the Negev Desert.

Visiting the Ashkelon crew, Nechushtan said "we have started on the right foot with some successful interceptions. But this is only the beginning, and things must be kept in perspective."

The U.S. President Barack Obama will forward 205 million U.S. dollars to Israel, in order to fund another four Iron Dome batteries, Army Radio said Sunday.

The two batteries in operation are experimental and manually operated. Israeli army officials currently directly operate the system, but may decide to switch the tracking and firing mechanism to automatic operation, pending events.

Israeli army officials said Sunday that "The moment Hamas takes the decision to stop firing, it must enforce this on all other organizations," a military source told the Ynet news site.

"Hamas did it before, and we expect it to happen again," the source said, adding "We exacted a heavy price from Hamas since Thursday, by hitting several targets and assassinating senior commanders."

Source: Xinhua
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