Gaza militants say they'll adhere to cease-fire
JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian militant leader said Friday that his group is adhering to a cease-fire that stopped a barrage of rockets and air strikes between Israel and the Gaza Strip last month.
Sheik Nafez Azzam of Islamic Jihad said Israeli reports that he had called for an ongoing struggle against Israel, despite a cease-fire, were mistaken.
"We in the Islamic Jihad are committed to the cease-fire," Azzam told The Associated Press.
He said a firebrand speech calling for ongoing resistance was a general political statement.
"We are continuing the struggle and the jihad," Azzam said at a Gaza Strip rally in comments broadcast on Israeli television. "We will not be broken. We will not surrender. We will not accept the conditions Israel tries to impose." Azzam said the speech was delivered Thursday.
Israel's Channel 2 had interpreted the speech as a signal that Islamic Jihad would continue "operations" against the Jewish state despite the cease-fire that ended a weeklong exchange of fire in early March between Israel and Gaza.
Palestinian groups are frequently accused of sending one set of signals to radical supporters, and another set of signals to the outside world.
Gaza's smaller militant factions in particular are caught between the need to show their followers that they represent a radical alternative to the territory's Hamas rulers, and pressure from both Hamas and the public who do not want militant attacks to bring down another wave of Israeli retaliation.
Azzam's statement came as Israel vowed to strike against the yet-unidentified militants who launched a rocket into the southern Israeli town of Eilat earlier Thursday.
Gaza regularly sees days- or weeks-long outbreaks of violence, in which rockets are fired into Israel and airstrikes launched at militant targets in the territory, followed by months-long cease-fires.
The last major outbreak of Gaza violence began in early March when Israel killed a militant leader it said was planning an attack, and the Eilat attack has raised fears in Israel as the Jewish state closes its borders with the Palestinian territories and takes other security measures in preparation for the Passover holiday.
Islamic Jihad is a militant group that has operated in Gaza since 1979 and has carried out bombings and rocket attacks on Israel.
Azzam spoke hours after Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz promised harsh retribution to militants who fired a rocket early Thursday into Eilat. Israel says that it was launched from the Sinai desert of neighboring Egypt. Palestinian groups have ties with Sinai militants, disgruntled tribes and smugglers there. Egypt denied the rocket was fired from its territory.
"The long arm of the State of Israel ultimately reaches everyone trying to harm citizens of Israel and the Jewish people," Gantz said.
The Israeli army closed the West Bank border just before midnight Thursday for the first two days of Passover, which begins Friday at sundown.
Under the ban, no Palestinians are allowed to cross into Israel except those needing medical care, the military said. The ban will be lifted on Saturday at midnight.
Israel routinely closes the West Bank during Jewish holidays when crowds in synagogues and other public places are most vulnerable to potential attacks by Palestinian militants.
A decade ago, 29 people were killed on Passover eve as they sat down to a traditional festive meal at a hotel in the Israeli resort of Netanya.