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Israeli jets strike Gaza —after Hamas offers truce

Maan News Agency

Israeli warplanes targeted sites across the Gaza Strip late March 21, injuring at least 17 people including seven children, witnesses and medics said. Ten people arrived at Ash-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and seven others were taken to Kamal Adwan Hospital in the north. An airstrike in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City caused considerable damage but no injuries, residents said. An Israeli military spokesman said that the attack targeted two "terror tunnels, two weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, and two additional terror activities sites."

The official emphasized that the attack came in response to the barrage of projectiles fired toward Israeli territory over the past week, including 50 on March 19 for which Hamas claimed responsibility. Among the targets were a police post and a training facility of Hamas' military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, which a day earlier offered to stop cross-border fire into Israel if the Israelis halted attacks on Gaza.

The al-Qassam Brigades said the March 19 attacks had been in response to an Israeli strike last week which killed two of its members—but that it was ready to call an end to the tit-for-tat violence if Israel also did so. "If the enemy stops the escalation and aggression against our people we will implement the Palestinian national agreement," the statement said, referring to a truce reaffirmed by the main militant factions in January.

The offer, however, came with a warning attached: "The enemy will pay a heavy price if it continues its aggression and crimes against our people in the Gaza Strip." In a later statement, Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu said the movement's Gaza government was committed to preserving the informal truce, with the backing of other militant groups. "The government affirms that there is consensus among the factions regarding the security situation in the strip," he said. Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon ignored the offer, but issued a death threat against Hamas leaders. "If Hamas decides to escalate, we will put an end to it... We have several actions before putting ground forces in Gaza, including direct threats against Hamas leaders," Ayalon told Israeli radio. (Maan News Agency, Palestine, March 21)

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