Mass arrests after Hamas rocket attacks

ISRAELI troops arrested 120 Hamas members in the southern West Bank yesterday just hours after the faction’s Gaza branch fired rockets into Israel.

Palestinian security sources said troops fanned out across the southern West Bank in an overnight operation that kicked off just hours after Hamas’s armed wing in Gaza fired rockets into southern Israel, breaking a truce brokered in April.

The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades said it fired four Grad rockets at the Israeli town of Ofakim near the Gaza Strip, wounding two children, in the first such attack claimed by the group in months. The attack came in the context of rising tensions in and around the enclave.

Among those arrested yesterday was Hamas MP Mohammed Motlaq Abu J’heisha, the sources said.

The Israeli operation met with resistance, with youth hurling stones at troops in Dura and troops retaliating with rubber bullets, injuring one protester, medics said.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the reported arrests, which came as tensions soared along the Israel-Gaza border, with the air force launching multiple airstrikes against militants, who hit back with rocket attacks.

The violence was sparked by a bloody series of shooting attacks late last week near the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, which killed eight Israelis.

Since, 15 Gazans have been killed and more than 40 injured, with rocket attacks killing one Israeli and injuring dozens. Egypt was drawn into last week’s violence when at least three of its security forces were killed as Israeli troops pursued militants involved in the ambush along the Israel-Egypt border.

Cairo threatened to withdraw its ambassador to Israel, but relented after Israel apologised.

Western diplomats in Cairo said Washington was mediating between the Egyptians and the Israelis to prevent the violence escalating.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said US, French and German mediators had been involved in defusing the diplomatic crisis with Egypt.

The crisis appears to have been defused, but Israeli officials said they were not convinced it could not reignite.

In the Egyptian capital, popular anger simmered, and protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy for a third day yesterday demanding the expulsion of the Israeli envoy, who is on holiday abroad.

Although the military leaders who now rule Egypt have expressed their commitment to the two nations’ 1979 peace treaty, anti-Israel sentiment has grown there since president Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising in February.

Israel is watching closely for signs that Egypt’s new rulers might respond to that sentiment.

Israeli officials are wary about instability in post-Mubarak Egypt and fear a new government that might distance itself further from Israel.

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