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5 dead in day of Gaza Strikes; brigades injure 2 in Israel

April 7, 2011 4:03 P.M. (Updated: April 9, 2011 10:39 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Four militants were killed in a series of strikes in and around Gaza City as well as the southern Strip, following the launch of an anti-tank missile toward Beersheba, which hit a schoolbus and injured two.

Thursday afternoon, Artillery fire also hit the southern Gaza Strip, with witnesses saying artillery fire injured five people, including a small child, and killed Mahmoud Al-Manasra, 50, who died after shells landed near his home in the Ash-Shuja'iyeh neighborhood of Gaza City.

"An anti-tank missile was fired directly at the bus," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said shortly after the attack on the school bus which was passing in front of kibbutz Nahal Oz, just across the border from Gaza City's eastern flank.

Hamas' armed wing claimed the attack, saying it was an "initial response" to Israel's assassination of three of the group's leaders on Saturday, when an airstrike hit their car in southern Gaza.

An Israeli military spokesman said the assassinations were a preemptive strike against militants planning to attack Israelis on holiday in the Sinai Peninsula during the coming Jewish festival of Passover.

Thursday night, the Hamas government said most of the militant groups in Gaza had agreed to a truce.

"We are in contact with the Palestinian factions to stop the Zionist escalation," the Hamas interior ministry said in a statement.

"We received a positive response from most of the factions," he added, without saying who had not signed up to the deal.

An Islamic Jihad official said the truce would go into effect from late Thursday night and indicated "other Arab countries" had been involved in the talks.

The truce announcement came after militants lobbed at least 45 mortar rounds into southern Israel, hitting a house, and the army responded by staging multiple raids across the enclave, one of which hit an ambulance, Palestinian medics said.

One projectile landed 700 meters inside Egyptian territory and caused a deep hole in the ground, an Egyptian security official said, adding that the army opened an inquiry to determine its origin.

As rockets flew over the border, Israel's Iron Dome short-range missile defense system intercepted a projectile heading for the southern port city of Ashkelon, in what was the first time the system has ever been successfully used in a combat situation.

The bus attack was the first time an anti-tank missile had hit a civilian target in Israel, prompting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to order the army "to act swiftly" in response.

Over the past month, dozens of rockets have hit southern Israel, some reaching cities as far as 25 miles away, prompting a series of air strikes and raids.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently en route to Prague after talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said he would deal with the surge in violence when he returned to Israel on Friday.

"I'm not going to manage things from Berlin airport ... when I get to Israel tomorrow, we shall, of course, continue the necessary actions to ensure the safety of the citizens of Israel," he said in comments broadcast on Israel's Channel 10 television.

Netanyahu told Voice of Israel radio on Thursday evening that "all necessary force" would be used to stop Gaza fire and harm to Israeli civilians.

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, said Israel was committed to its truce with Hamas and did not seek to escalate the situation along the border.

"However, Hamas launched 16 mortar rounds in addition to targeting an Israeli bus in southern Israel that left two wounded," Gendelman told Ma'an, saying he held Hamas responsible.

Asked if that meant Israel was considering a new Gaza assault, he responded, "I don't rule this out."

PLO executive committee member Saeb Erekat urged Israel to end its attacks: “For years, our people have suffered the devastating consequences of an illegal and inhumane siege," Erekat said.

"It is now time for the international community to intervene and prevent another round of merciless and illegitimate military escalation against Palestinian civilians.”

Erekat also urged Palestinian factions not to give Israel any pretext for further attacks.

AFP contributed to this report.

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