GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas said on Sunday it has begun talks with other militant factions in the Gaza Strip to urge them to stop firing rockets at Israel, attacks that have raised Palestinian fears of a new Israeli offensive.
The talks are a signal that Hamas hopes to avert any large-scale Israeli military operation in the enclave similar to a three-week campaign that ended in January 2009 and in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
“We began contacts with factions over the situation in the field. Hamas seeks to control the situation on the ground and urge factions to recommit to the national agreement,” Hamas official Ayman Taha said.
He was referring to an understanding that Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, said it reached with militant factions two years ago to halt rocket and mortar bomb fire.
In recent weeks, Palestinian militants have stepped up attacks along the Gaza border, answered by Israeli strikes that killed 13 Palestinians, most of them gunmen, in December.
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.
Several Hamas leaders have said a new Gaza war would inflict heavy casualties on Israel, but they also have spoken of a willingness for a reciprocal truce to facilitate the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure destroyed in the 2009 conflict.
The Hamas Islamist group is shunned by the West over its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.
Editing by Jon Hemming