Israel launches airstrikes in Gaza Monday

Israel said it was responding to rocket attacks Sunday.

Despite an informal truce in Gaza, a Palestinian militant was killed by Israeli troops and Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes in Gaza Monday. The Israeli attacks were retaliations against Palestinian rocket attacks that took place on Sunday. The violence coincides with increased efforts to broker a more lasting cease-fire.

The Palestinian fighter was killed by Israeli troops overnight, reports the Associated Press.

The militant group Islamic Jihad said in a statement that one of its fighters was killed overnight in an Israeli airstrike. The Israeli military said troops spotted an armed militant trying to cross the Gaza-Israel border late Sunday and opened fire, after which a bomb belt he was wearing detonated.

Haaretz reports the fighter had planned to attack Israeli troops, according to Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad had earlier said the man killed was on a mission to attack an Israeli patrol along the border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip...
Islamic Jihad said the Palestinian killed near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun belonged to its armed wing and that he was part of a squad that had planned to attack Israeli troops along the frontier.

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza earlier Monday morning did not result in casualties, according to Agence France-Presse.

An Israeli F-16 fired two missiles against a police post near the southern city of Khan Yunis, sparking a fire.
An Israeli helicopter also carried out a raid in a unpopulated area of Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, but caused no casualties.
"Aircraft intervened against a Hamas position in Hamas near Khan Yunis and another at Beit Lahiya," an Israeli military spokesman confirmed.

The airstrikes are in retaliation for Palestinian rocket attacks that occurred the day before, reports the Associated Press.

Two rockets fired by Palestinian militants struck southern Israel on Sunday, Israel's military said, violating an informal truce even as Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers appeared to hurry closer to a long-term cease-fire deal two days before Israeli elections....
In separate attacks, Palestinian rockets exploded in the Nir Am communal farm and the southern city of Ashkelon. No injuries were reported, though cars and buildings were damaged, authorities said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack.

In a separate incident, an Israeli gunboat fired a shell at a Palestinian fishing boat off the northern Gaza coast, reports the Associated Press.

The military said the boat had strayed beyond limits Israel has set for fishermen, and that the gunfire was meant as a deterrent.
Palestinian officials said the fishing boat was damaged but no one was injured.

This violence coincides with an announcement on Monday in the Egyptian newspaper Al Gomhuria that Israel and Hamas are expected to finalize a cease-fire agreement within 48 hours, reports Ynet.

The deal is set to include two stages: An oral agreement on both sides to hold fire, followed by a written agreement for a one-year truce at least.
According to the Egyptian report, Hamas strongman Mahmoud al-Zahar is expected to return to Cairo with a positive answer to the proposals presented to the organization by Egypt. Turkey was also said to be involved in the talks.

According to the Associated Press, the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and the reopening of Gaza Strip crossings have featured prominently in negotiations.

Israel wants militants to halt their attacks, end arms smuggling into Gaza and release an Israeli soldier Hamas has held captive for more than 2-1/2 years.
Hamas wants an end to Israel's economic blockade of Gaza, which has severely restricted the movement of goods since Hamas seized power in June 2007. It also has demanded the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in return for the soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit. Hundreds of the prisoners have been involved in deadly attacks on Israel, and their release would likely generate unease if not outright controversy.

According to a joint report of the Lebanese daily The Daily Star and Agence France-Presse, a Hamas delegation was supposed to continue negotiations on Monday in Cairo. However, Egyptian demands may present obstacles before the cease-fire agreement is finalized.

Egypt is hopeful that a Gaza truce accord between Israel and the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas can be reached in the next few days, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said Sunday. "There are positive signs that in the next few days we will reach an understanding on a truce and a partial reopening of crossing points [into Gaza]," Zaki said....
A Hamas delegation from Gaza led by deposed Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar was in Syria on Sunday for consultations on the truce with Damascus-based members of the group's politburo, Hamas official Mohammad Nasr told AFP.
Mohammad Nazzal, a senior Hamas official based in Damascus, told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television that there are still "obstacles" in the truce talks. He said Egypt is linking the opening of its Rafah border crossing to Gaza with Palestinian reconciliation. Egypt has refused to permanently open the crossing in the absence of EU monitors and representatives of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas....
The delegation is due to return to the Egyptian capital on Monday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Negotiations are expected to continue in Cairo on Tuesday and Wednesday as Hamas representatives are eager to negotiate a cease-fire before a new Israeli government is sworn in.

Meanwhile, politicians in Israel are making final appeals to voters before a general election scheduled for Tuesday, reports the BBC.

The favourite to become prime minister is Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing opposition party, Likud.
But his opinion-poll lead has been clawed back in recent weeks by Tzipi Livni, who heads the centrist Kadima, the largest party in the government.
The BBC's Tim Franks, in Jerusalem, says opinion polls suggest the far-right will make the biggest gains.
He says the popularity of Israel Our Home Party led by Avogdor Lieberman is on the increase.
The party advocates annexing Israel's settlements on the West Bank, and redrawing the borders so that Israel's large Arab minority comes under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
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