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Hamas pledges Gaza rocket fire probe as calm returns

By AFP - Oct 18,2018 - Last updated at Oct 18,2018

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Naji Al Zaaneen, 25, during his funeral precession in the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday (AFP photo)

GAZA — Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas on Thursday pledged to launch an investigation into rocket fire at Israel the previous day, in an apparent bid to calm fears of a new war.

Israeli children returned to schools near the border with the Palestinian territory that had been closed on Wednesday after the predawn rocket fire from Gaza badly damaged a family home in the southern city of Beersheba.

But the risk of a new war, whether through miscalculation or design, remained.

Three children had a narrow escape after their mother moved them into the safe room, as much of the rest of the house was destroyed, the army said.

Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for a decade, issued a joint statement with its ally Islamic Jihad publicly disavowing the rocket fire.

But Israel rejected their denial, saying they were the only groups armed with rockets of a range sufficient to reach Beersheba — 40 kilometres away — and the sea off Tel Aviv — 70 kilometres.

Israel in any case holds Hamas responsible, as Gaza's de factor ruler, for all fire from the territory regardless of who launches it.

"There are security service investigations in Gaza to uncover who is behind the rocket fire and there will be harsh measures against those [found guilty]," senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told AFP.

He said the rocket fire "aimed to sabotage Egyptian efforts" to broker a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel, which have fought three wars since 2008.

A video published by Hamas' military wing on Thursday showed militants preparing rockets for launch, with the caption: "Read us correctly, a mistake would not benefit," written in Hebrew.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from loyalists of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in a near civil war in 2007 and the split has made peace negotiations with Israel harder.

Egypt and the UN have been seeking to broker an agreement that would see Israel relax its blockade of Gaza in exchange for a prolonged period of calm from Hamas.

Abbas' Fateh movement opposes any such deal, saying it amounts to a recognition of Islamist control in Gaza.

Egyptian Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel had been expected in Gaza on Thursday for his first visit since taking up the post in January, fuelling talk of a deal.

Hamas official Naim said the minister was forced to postpone because of a timetabling problem.

But an Egyptian delegation led by senior intelligence official Ayman Badea did travel to Gaza and met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.

An Egyptian official told AFP they were still hopeful of achieving a long-term deal to restore calm.

Egypt is one of only two Arab states to have official relations with Israel and plays a key role in indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political analyst in Gaza, said those who fired the rockets wanted to prevent the Egyptian minister's visit and "stop reconciliation and a truce".

Fringe Islamist groups opposed to Hamas have previously fired rockets. Suspicion could also fall on factions within Hamas and Islamic Jihad opposed to a truce deal.

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