Hamas leader says group will halt rocket attacks against Israel

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar on Sunday said his group will stop firing rockets at Israel and halt its military-style celebrations after a two-day Israeli offensive aimed at militants throughout the Gaza Strip.

Israel launched the offensive Saturday in response to a barrage of Hamas rockets. Officials said the offensive, including airstrikes and other attacks, will continue until the rocket attacks end.

Zahar, a top Hamas leader in Gaza, told a news conference that the group remains committed to a cease-fire declared more than six months ago in Cairo, Egypt.

"We call on our military groups to stop their operations against the enemy from the Gaza Strip," he said. "We call on our people and the resistance factions to protect the owners of the resistance weapons, which will be raised only the face of the occupation. We renew our commitment to end all the military parades."

The latest violence erupted after a blast at a Hamas military parade on Friday killed at least 15 people. Hamas blamed Israel, but the Palestinian Authority said the explosion was caused by the mishandling of explosives. Israel, which usually acknowledges attacks on militants, denied involvement in the blast.

Following the explosion, Hamas fired nearly 40 rockets into Israel, prompting Israel to strike back with a series of airstrikes throughout Gaza.

Zahar said he wanted to end the violence to protect Palestinians from further Israeli attacks and maintain the atmosphere of joy following Israel's recent withdrawal from Gaza.

Palestinian leaders and Egyptian mediators had been pressuring Hamas to halt the rocket fire.

It was not immediately clear whether the Hamas declaration would persuade Israel to call off its offensive.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said it is now time for Hamas to disarm.

"As long as extremists have the ability to torpedo the process of reconciliation and to launch attacks, we will be at their mercy and therefore it's important that the Palestinian Authority follow through on its commitment and start a process of dismantling the militant infrastructure of Hamas and the other terrorist groups," he said, AP reported.

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