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Army: Gaza militants fire 4 rockets into southern Israel

Aug. 22, 2011 9:12 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 24, 2011 6:50 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Militants in northern Gaza fired several rockets into southern Israel on Monday evening, the Israeli military and police said, hours after a temporary truce was agreed.

"Two rockets fired from Gaza fell in an uninhabited area of the town of Sderot," police spokeswoman Luba Simmari told AFP, and another crashed south of the town of Ashkelon.

A military source said a fourth rocket later fell near Ashkelon.

The attacks were claimed in a joint statement issued in Gaza by groups not party to the truce -- the Ali Mustapha Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Al-Nasser Brigades, a dissident wing of the PRC.

Hamas spokesman Taher An-Nunu said Monday that factions in Gaza had committed to a truce with Israel.

On Sunday night, the Hamas-run security forces were "instructed to stop the shooting" against Israel, with police checking cars in the border area, and checkpoints set up at the entrance to every town in Gaza.

Israel police said seven rockets were fired from Gaza between midnight and 8:00 am, but nothing after that.

A senior Hamas official told AFP that the factions had hammered out a truce agreement in talks with Egyptian officials, which would be contingent on Israel stopping its air strikes on Gaza.

"We have reached an informal agreement to establish a ceasefire from tonight on condition that Israel halts its attacks," he told AFP.

Israel's 15-member security cabinet was reportedly called to an emergency meeting at 3:00 am, army radio said, at which the military's top brass presented various options for stopping the rocket fire.

But after an hour of discussion, ministers decided against a ground operation for fear it "could trigger mass demonstrations in Egypt which could destabilize the regime in Cairo" and also harm Israeli interests in September when the Palestinian are planning to seek UN membership, the radio said.

Efforts to end the fighting in and around Gaza came as Israel sought to head off a diplomatic crisis with Egypt sparked by Thursday's attacks near Eilat, with Cairo saying five policemen had been killed by Israeli fire during the hunt for gunmen along the border.

Two days later, Egypt's state television said Cairo was going to recall its envoy from Israel in protest.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed "regret" over the deaths and promised an investigation, but Egypt said it wasn't enough, although it made no move to confirm reports it would recall its envoy.

The looming specter of a crisis with Egypt played a concrete role in bringing about an end to the Gaza confrontations, Israeli press reports said.

"As early as Saturday morning, in an effort to avoid worsening relations with Egypt following Thursday's terror attack, the government ordered the IDF to greatly reduce its attacks on terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip," Haaretz said.

"We must not lose Egypt because of one terror attack," a senior defense official told the paper. "If the attack near Eilat harms our relations with Egypt, that will be a great victory for the terror organizations."

Tensions in and around Gaza kicked off after the Negev desert shooting attacks with Israel launching a wave of retaliatory air strikes against the Popular Resistance Committees, killing its leader and several other of its senior militants.

The PRC committed to the truce Monday, but only "temporarily."

"We have temporarily stopped firing rockets at Israel according to the national consensus," said a masked spokesman for the group.

He added that talk of a more permanent truce was "out of the question. We have an open account with the enemy until it leaves Palestinian soil."

In the four days following the Eilat attacks, Israeli air strikes killed 14 Palestinians while more than 50 people were wounded.

Over the same period, militants fired more than 100 rockets and mortars at Israeli towns and cities in the south, killing one man and injuring more than 20, one critically.

AFP contributed to this report.
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