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Middle east

Palestinian militants fire first rockets into Israel

Video by Luke BROWN , Gwladys SAVERY

Latest update : 2009-01-18

Militants in the Gaza Strip fired five rockets into Israel on Sunday, in the first attack since the Israeli government declared a unilateral ceasefire in its Gaza offensive, the army said.

REUTERS - Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip launched rockets into southern Israel on Sunday in defiance of the unilateral ceasefire that Israel declared hours earlier.

 

"At least five rockets were launched and four hit in open areas near (the Israeli town of) Sderot," an Israeli military spokesman said.

 

Israel halted its 22-day-old Gaza offensive at 2 a.m. (0000 GMT), saying it had achieved all its objectives but that a troop withdrawal was contingent on Hamas ceasing its fire completely.

 

Hamas said it would not accept the presence of Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip and would "continue to resist them". Israeli leaders said the military would respond strongly if Hamas kept up attacks.

 

In the first reported violence after the ceasefire went into effect, Hamas militants shot at Israeli troops near Jabalya refugee camp, an Israeli military spokesman said.

 

"(Israeli forces) returned fire from the ground and the air and they saw that gunmen were hit. There were no casualties among the troops," the spokesman said.

 

Hamas sources said there had been a brief clash with Israeli troops pulling out of Jabalya.

 

Olmert cited internationally backed understandings with Egypt, Gaza's southern neighbour, on preventing Hamas from rearming through smuggling tunnels as a reason behind Israel's decision to call off its attacks.

 

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak invited European leaders to a hastily called summit on Sunday to try to bolster the unilateral truce although Israel had sidestepped Cairo's efforts to achieve a negotiated end to the hostilities with Hamas.

 

In the morning hours, a Reuters photographer saw a column of tanks and troops crossing into Israel from positions in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israeli military said they were removed for "rest and relaxation".

 

Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip on Dec. 27 and ground troops pushed into the enclave a week later, saying its main aim was an end to the rocket fire that had killed 18 people in Israel over the previous eight years.

 

Israeli attacks killed more than 1,200 Palestinians, and some 700 civilians during the offensive, Gaza medical officials said. Israel said hundreds of gunmen were among the dead. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians hit by rockets were killed.

 

Without an accord with Hamas, diplomats said they feared Israel would let only a trickle of goods into rubble-strewn Gaza, hampering reconstruction and creating more hardship for its people.

Date created : 2009-01-18

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