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Israel air strikes in Gaza: Will Hamas rocket truce hold?

Gaza militants vowed counterattacks for Israeli air strikes, one day after Hamas-brokered deal to stop rocket attacks.

By Erin CunninghamCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / November 22, 2009

Palestinians check the damage at a site that was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Maghazi refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, Sunday.

Khalil Hamra/AP

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Gaza City, Gaza

Israeli warplanes carried out air strikes against targets across the Gaza Strip Sunday morning, just one day after Hamas announced it had reached an agreement with all Gaza-based militant factions to halt rocket fire into the Jewish state.

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The early morning Israeli raids – which injured eight Palestinians (three at metal workshops in northern and central Gaza, as well as five at smuggling tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, according to Palestinian health officials) – were the most comprehensive in a single night of operations since Israel ended its three-week war on Gaza in January.

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes Sunday targeted two weapons-manufacturing facilities and a smuggling tunnel. The attacks were in response to a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Saturday, causing no damage or injuries.

The border between Israel and Gaza has been relatively quiet since last winter's assault that killed some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, with just sporadic rocket fire and Israeli retaliatory attacks focused almost entirely on striking the smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Some 270 rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel in 2009, compared with over 3,300 in 2008 prior to the war, according to Israeli military figures.

Signs of escalation?

But despite Hamas' Saturday announcement that the rocket attacks will temporarily stop, locals fear this morning's attacks and the more recent tit-for-tat violence may be reaching last year's pre-war levels.

In September, the Israeli military carried out its first targeted assassination since the war when an unmanned drone struck a vehicle carrying Islamic Jihad militants near Gaza's eastern border.

The Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility for a mortar attack on the Erez crossing with Israel on Wednesday, the same day a rocket fired from Gaza by a smaller, Al-Qaeda-style militant group prompted further Israeli air strikes on the Rafah tunnels Thursday morning.

Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yusuf says his movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, is serious about their unilateral cease-fire, but called Israel's Sunday raids "an invitation to escalate the conflict."

"We have been adhering to our cease-fire for almost a year now," says Mr. Yusuf. "We, and other groups in the Gaza Strip, have made it a priority to keep things calm. Why now this provocation?"

Following Sunday's bombings, the armed wings of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Islamic Jihad denied they made any such agreement to stop firing rockets into Israel, according to the London-based Arabic-language daily, Al Quds Al Arabi.

Yusuf says Palestinian militants have "no interest" in engaging with Israel militarily. Hamas wants to focus on reconstruction, but he adds that the cease-fire does mean that they will prevent "responses to Israeli aggression."

"If the Israelis target us, people will react," says Yusuf. "It's a normal thing. And we [Hamas] can't stop anyone from fighting back against Israeli attacks."

Earlier this month, Israel's military intelligence chief, Major-General Amos Yadlin, announced Hamas had obtained and successfully tested a rocket that can reach Tel Aviv, Israel's largest metropolitan city.

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