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At least 18 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes since Thursday, when Gaza militants launched a tank shell that hit a schoolbus inside Israel and injured two people. Israel says Palestinian militants have launched about 120 rockets and mortars since Thursday. The escalation has stoked fears that Israel would launch a ground invasion of Gaza as it did in December 2008. About 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the three-week offensive.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hama, in a rare interview with Israel Radio Sunday, said Hamas would stop launching rockets if Israel stopped airstrikes.
"We are interested in calm but want the Israeli military to stop its operations," he said. A Hamas spokesman said the Palestinian factions are “not interested” in escalation. "If the Israeli aggression stopped, it would be natural for calm to be restored. Calm will be met with calm," said Sami Abu Zuhri.
Palestinian news agency Ma’an reports that most Palestinian factions agreed to a cease-fire late Saturday. The proposal for both sides to stop attacks was negotiated by the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Robert Serry. But neither side has announced the agreement, and Ma’an reports that Islamic Jihad’s armed faction Al Quds Brigades did not agree to the plan.
Each side appears to want the other to stop first.
Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said Sunday that Israel would stop airstrikes if Palestinians halted rocket attacks, reports Bloomberg. “We will stop firing if they stop all fire and it’s quiet,” he said, also in an interview on Israel Radio.
In remarks to his cabinet that were broadcast on the radio station, Israeli Prime Minister warned that if rocket attacks did not stop, “the response will be much more harsh.” According to Reuters, he did not rule out the possibility of another ground offensive, but appeared to say its not likely. “If it will be necessary, we will act, but when it's not necessary, we don't need to. Restraint is also a form of strength,” he said.
Even as officials sought to reach a solution, the firing continued Sunday. According to Haaretz, Gaza militants launched five mortar rounds that hit the Negev on Sunday; two rockets hit near Ashkelon, and another was intercepted by Israel’s anti-missile system, dubbed the Iron Dome. There were no casualties in any of the attacks.
The escalation has highlighted the new Iron Dome system, which Israeli officials say stopped seven rockets over the weekend, according to Bloomberg. The news service reports that the US will give Israel $250 million to build new Iron Dome systems in other communities. Israel's prime minister praised the system's performance over the weekend, but said it was only a "partial" response, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The Christian Science Monitor reported in July that the system, which had just finished testing, won’t be a game-changer in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The system is unable to shield large metropolitan areas and costs as much as $21 million.