GAZA (Reuters) - Egypt has told Hamas that Israel might launch a Gaza war to curb rocket attacks, a warning that led the group to urge other militant factions to cease fire, sources familiar with Egypt-Hamas contacts said on Wednesday.
“Egypt has told Hamas the Gaza situation was similar to that before December 2008,” said one source, referring to the start of the three-week war Israel waged in the Hamas-run enclave with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket strikes.
“Hamas does not want a new escalation unless it is forced into it,” the source said.
A Palestinian official said Egypt and another Arab country, which he declined to identify, had discussed the issue with Hamas. Hamas officials declined to comment.
On Sunday, Hamas said it had made contact with other factions to urge them to recommit to an agreement they reached two years ago to stop rocket and mortar bomb fire.
In recent weeks, Palestinian militants have stepped up attacks along the Gaza border, drawing Israeli strikes that killed 13 Palestinians, most of them gunmen, in December.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said at least 20 rockets and mortar bombs have landed in Israel since the start of 2011.
Saleh Zidan, a senior leader of the Palestinian Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), told Reuters top Egyptian security officials he met in Cairo on Tuesday made their concerns known about a new Israeli offensive.
“The Egyptian leadership is in favor of not giving a pretext to the Israeli government to launch a new war on the Gaza Strip,” Zidan said.
The DFLP is a major faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization and is at odds with Hamas over the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza. The DFLP has claimed several attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip over the past two years.
Israel has said Hamas has largely held its fire over the past two years but the surge in rocket attacks meant it was not doing enough to curb other groups, which say their strikes are in retaliation for Israeli raids in Gaza and the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing foreign journalists in Jerusalem on Tuesday, said militants in the Gaza Strip would be making “a terrible, terrible mistake” if they continued to “test our will to defend our people”.
An Israeli air strike earlier that day killed an Islamic Jihad militant. The Israeli military said he had been planning to carry out an attack against Israel.
In Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, hundreds of Islamic Jihad supporters urged the group, which has continued occasional rocket attacks in the past two years, to avenge the death of Mohammed Najjar, who was targeted while he was riding a motorcycle.
“There will be no calm as long as assassinations continue. Rocket firing will continue as long as Israel continues its foolish actions,” said Abu Hamza, a local Islamic Jihad commander.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan