Egypt brokers peace after Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed

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Egypt helped broker a fresh ceasefire by militants in Gaza Sunday, after violence left nine Palestinians and one Israeli dead, sources close to the groups said. The agreement came after Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip Saturday and early Sunday killed nine Islamic Jihad militants, while retaliatory rocket fire killed one Israeli.
The truce with Israel was due to come into effect at 6.00am (0400 GMT), said sources close to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two main Islamist groups in the Gaza Strip. “The efforts and intensive contacts led by senior Egyptian intelligence service officials led to a national consensus to restore calm” with Israel, a leader of one Palestinian group, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP.
If the agreement holds it will mark the end of the bloodiest exchanges between the two sides since since a tacit ceasefire was agreed between Gaza Palestinian militants and Israel in late August. The first Israeli attack early Saturday afternoon killed five members of the Al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, said Adham Abu Selmiya, spokesman for Gaza’s emergency services.
Another three militants were critically wounded, he added.
As tit-for-tat fighting continued into the night, Israeli aircraft struck more targets in Gaza, killing four more militants and wounding at least two, witnesses and Palestinian officials said. At least two of the militants were killed as they tried to fire a Grad rocket into Israel, an Al-Quds spokesman said. The Israeli military said of the earlier raid that the air force had fired on a “group of terrorists preparing to fire long-range rockets” and that the attack had “prevented the attempted firing.”
The other strikes were aimed at similar targets, it said. Reprisal attacks began after sunset Saturday, and police said that by mid-evening 21 rockets had been fired from Gaza into southern Israel. As Palestinian rockets and mortar shells pounded Israel Saturday, Israel’s police said they were raising their national alert level to its second-highest. A statement released by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had phoned the mayors of Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheeva and told them that the military’s “tough response will be even tougher if necessary.”
“The recent escalations are very worrying, said Richard Miron, a spokesman for UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry. “It’s vital to de-escalate now, without any delay. We strongly appeal for calm and an end to violence and bloodshed,” he said in a statement. The Al-Quds Brigades, in its own statement, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, posting a video on its website that it said showed the launching of five of the rockets.
Spokesman Abu Ahmed accused Israel of carrying out its raid in order to heighten tensions so it could renege on freeing 550 Palestinian prisoners – part of a prisoner-swap deal with Gaza rulers Hamas for the liberation of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Israel released 477 prisoners in exchange for Shalit earlier this month and is due to free another 550 within two months. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also claimed responsibility for the attacks.
And a spokesman for Hamas’s Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades blamed Israel for the escalation. “The occupation is completely responsible for the crime in Rafah and all of the resistance factions cannot leave the shedding of our martyrs’ blood unanswered,” spokesman Abu Obeida said. “We shall discuss the answer to this crime,” he added, in the hours before news of the truce emerged. Three Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip Thursday hit a base of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, witnesses said. Israel said it was in retaliation for the earlier attack.