JERUSALEM // Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip bombarded southern Israel with mortars and rockets early today, burdening diplomatic efforts to revive a truce that expired over the weekend. Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, said the bombardment came in retaliation for the deaths of three of its fighters in a clash with Israeli troops late on Tuesday. Israel said the militants were planting explosives in northern Gaza along the border fence.
The Israeli military said 10 mortars and three rockets were fired at southern Israel on Tuesday night and early this morning. No injuries were reported from the barrages, which militants said were carried out by Hamas and two smaller factions. Before the violence resumed, Israel had agreed to crack open cargo crossings with Gaza today to allow in a limited amount of food, medicines and fuel from Egypt. But military spokesman Peter Lerner said the passages would remain closed in light of the militant barrages.
Israel has maintained a strict blockade of Gaza since the ceasefire began unravelling six weeks ago, allowing in only small quantities of essential goods. Egypt has similarly sealed its border crossing with the territory. The sanctions have deepened the destitution in Gaza, home to 1.4 million Palestinians who are confined to the tiny coastal strip. Gazans have worked around the choking off of supplies by bringing in goods through tunnels dug under the Gaza-Egypt border.
So far the number of rockets and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes has not approached the pre-truce level, feeding hopes that the ceasefire can be resumed. Both sides have expressed willingness to consider reviving it. Egypt, which mediated the expired truce, is leading the diplomatic efforts to renew it. Tomorrow, the Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni is to meet with the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. Alongside talk of restoring the truce, Israel is preparing for an escalation of violence. Israeli leaders have approved a large-scale military operation to stop the rocket fire, but are reluctant to press ahead with a campaign sure to exact heavy casualties on both sides. Past incursions have not halted the barrages, and defence and political officials fear anything short of a reoccupation of Gaza would fail to achieve the desired results. Israel left Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation.