Israel gives Hamas 48 hours, opens Gaza borders (Lead)

December 26th, 2008 - 11:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Gaza/Tel Aviv, Dec 26 (DPA) Israel Friday gave Hamas and other Palestinian militant factions in the Gaza Strip 48 hours to reduce ongoing rocket and mortar attacks from the salient or risk an Israeli military operation into the strip.For the first time in 10 days, Israel opened its border crossings with the Gaza Strip Friday morning to allow in essential humanitarian supplies.

If Hamas, the radical Islamist movement ruling the Gaza Strip, responds by reducing rocket and mortar attacks from the strip, Israel will put off a military operation, officials said.

Speaking on an Arabic television station popular in the Gaza Strip, Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued what he said was a “last-minute” call to stop the rocket attacks and avoid bloodshed.

Egypt, meanwhile, was making efforts to curb the escalation in Gaza.

Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman spoke on the telephone with Hamas’ de-facto foreign minister in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, Israel Radio reported Friday.

The broadcaster added that Egypt had also beefed up its forces along its border with the Gaza Strip, fearing Palestinians may try to breach the border should Israel attack. A spokesman in Cairo would not confirm.

Earlier, a six-month long Egyptian-mediated truce expired one week ago. Hamas said it is interested in a new truce but wants improved terms.

Attacks from the salient continued Friday, with militants launching at least 10 mortar shells and two rockets into southern Israel by the afternoon, a military spokesman said.

Spokesman Mark Regev would not confirm the 48-hour timeline for an end to the rocket and mortar fire.

“We don’t want to add anything” to what Olmert told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya television channel Thursday, he said.

“I say to you in a last-minute call, ’stop it,’” Olmert said in the interview. “Stop it, you the citizens of Gaza - you can stop it.”

“We are stronger,” he said, warning that a military confrontation would cause “more bloodshed” in Gaza than in Israel and could be devastating. “Who wants it? We don’t want it.”

A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Ma’ariv daily Friday that “we are bringing in humanitarian aid before we enter with troops into the Gaza Strip.

“In other words, if, in the course of the weekend, Hamas takes one step back and stops the fire on the Gaza periphery communities, Israel will not rush into a harsh retaliation.”

Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said Gaza’s border crossings should be open to humanitarian aid, regardless of the rocket fire.

Some 40 trucks with medical supplies and basic food products - including flower, sugar and rice - from Egypt and the UN, among other donors, passed through the Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern part of the strip Friday morning.

Another 40 trucks with grain, mainly wheat, also passed through the Karni crossing for commercial goods, east of Gaza City, an Israeli defence official said.

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