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Seven rockets hit Israel after Gaza factions agree truce

23 august 2011, 11:47
Seven rockets from Gaza hit Israel on Monday just hours after militant factions agreed an informal truce after four days of deadly cross-border violence in which 15 Palestinians and an Israeli died, AFP reports.

The truce was hammered out after talks with Egyptian officials, and several hours later, Israel's security cabinet held an emergency session during the night at which ministers decided to hold off from further attacks on the Palestinian territory, army radio said.

Police said seven rockets had hit Israel since midnight causing no casualties but damage to several buildings; the military put the number at eight.

Gaza also enjoyed a second night of clear skies, with no air strikes reported.

"We have reached an informal agreement to establish a ceasefire from tonight on condition that Israel halts its attacks," a senior Hamas official told AFP late on Sunday, saying a formal announcement would be made on Monday.

During the evening, the Hamas-run security forces were "instructed to stop the shooting" against Israel, he said, with troops fanning out along the border area to enforce the order.

Efforts to end the fighting in and around Gaza came as Israel sought to head of a diplomatic crisis with Egypt in the wake of a deadly shooting attack near the Red Sea resort town of Eilat last Thursday, which left eight Israelis dead.

As Israel hunted the gunmen along the Egypt-Israeli border, five Egyptian policemen were shot dead, and two days later, Egypt's state television said Cairo was to recall its envoy from Israel in protest.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak expressed "regret" over the deaths and promised an investigation, with the results shared with the Egyptian authorities.

The looming spectre 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, indicating the air force was only authorised to hit militants preparing to fire rockets.

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

Tensions in and around Gaza kicked off after the Negev desert shooting attacks which killed eight Israelis and prompted a wave of retaliatory air strikes against the Gazan militant group Israel said was behind the attack.

In the following days, Israeli air strikes killed 15 Palestinians and injured over 50; at least nine of the dead were militants, most of them from the Popular Resistance Committees -- the group Israel said was behind the Negev bloodshed.

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

Since Saturday afternoon, the air force has launched only four strikes -- all during daylight hours and none of them lethal although eight people were injured, including a 12-year-old boy who was in serious condition.

And Sunday saw militants firing 37 rockets and mortars into Israel, the military said.

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