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Gaza factions agree ceasefire as overnight calm holds

Aug. 22, 2011 10:20 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 23, 2011 2:19 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Reports of a Sunday evening ceasefire deal reached between factions in Gaza and Israel appeared to hold overnight Sunday, as residents paused for breath after four days of Israeli airstrikes.

The Israeli army reported that 12 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel overnight, with no injuries.

But the cessation deal, described by a Hamas official as "informal", seemed to take Gaza residents safely through the night.

No faction claimed rockets attacks after the deal was in place, around 9 p.m. Israel time, 8 p.m. in winter-saving time.

The Popular Resistance Committees' military wing announced Monday they would adhere to the ceasefire, after Israeli media reported they were holding out on Sunday.

"We will temporarily stop firing rockets for the sake of our Palestinian people," said the statement posted on the website of the group, which was blamed by Israel for a series of bloody attacks near Eilat last week that killed eight Israelis.

The group, which denied involvement, has worked closely with Gaza's Hamas rulers in the past, but struck out over the issue of attacks on Israel.

Its leader and several militants were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Thursday, and the Israeli news site Ynet said Sunday the group's spokesman Abu Mujahed insisted that Israel "take responsibility" for the action.

A senior Islamic Jihad leader told AFP on Sunday that Egyptian officials had held talks with some of Gaza's military factions in order to secure a ceasefire agreement.

Although Gaza's Hamas leaders were not there in person, a senior official from the Islamist movement confirmed they were in touch with the Egyptians by phone.

Tensions in and around the Gaza Strip have soared since Thursday when militants staged a series of bloody shooting attacks in the Negev desert, killing eight Israelis and prompting a wave of bloody tit-for-tat exchanges.

Since Thursday, 14 Palestinians have been killed, nine of them militants, and 47 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza, while one Israeli has been killed and dozens injured in a barrage of more than 100 rockets and mortars fired on cities and towns in the south.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Sunday that the military strikes might last a few days, shortly before reports of the ceasefire emerged.

The minister echoed fierce statements of the Israeli Prime Minister, telling journalists on the trip to Israel's "Iron Dome" missile interception system that Israel's enemies would be "decapitated", Israeli daily Ynet reported.

"We have a policy of extracting a very high price from anyone who causes us harm," Prime Minister Netanyahu warned Friday, before the launch of several rounds of airstrikes.

An informal ceasefire deal with Israel is maintained by Gaza's ruling party Hamas in the coastal enclave, who contend with several rival factions to ensure compliance with the ban on hostilities.

The ceasefire last broke in April, when an Israeli bombardment that killed a group of Hamas fighters launched days of rocket fire and Israeli air raids that killed at least 18 people in Gaza.

Factions received the deal coolly in that month, but the truce held until Thursday's attacks were pinned on the Gaza-base of the Popular Resistance Committees.
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