Violence unabated despite hopes for a truce

A mother and her four children died in clashes between Gaza insurgents and the Israeli army, as rival Palestinian factions prepare for talks in Egypt on a possible ceasefire with Israel.


Four children, aged one to five, their mother and a militant were killed in Israeli operations in Gaza on Monday as Palestinian factions prepared for talks in Egypt on a possible truce.

Four siblings -- aged one, three, four and five -- were killed when a tank shell hit their home in the north Gaza town of Beit Hanun, and their mother died later of her wounds, doctors at the Kamal Radwan hospital said.

Islamic Jihad fighters had clashed with Israeli troops near the house, close to Gaza's border with Israel, Palestinian security officials said, and the group said one of its fighters was killed in the same area.

"Palestinians fired anti-tank missiles and mortar rounds at IDF soldiers," the Israel Defence Forces said in a statement, adding that a soldier was lightly wounded during operations in Gaza, which included air strikes.

"There was tank fire from the Israeli army. Armed men were hit," an army spokeswoman said.

At least 443 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed since Israel and the Palestinians relaunched formal peace talks under US auspices at an international conference in November, according to an AFP tally.

The latest clashes came as three Palestinian factions prepared to hold talks in Cairo to discuss a possible ceasefire with Israel after the Islamist Hamas movement which rules the Gaza Strip held similar talks in the Egyptian capital.

Egypt has been serving as a go-between in the truce negotiations as Israel refuses any direct contacts with organisations it considers terror groups.

The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) have said they will be sending representatives to Cairo.

Islamic Jihad, which has carried out many rocket attacks on southern Israel, has not yet said whether it will be sending a delegation but was involved in abortive truce talks last month.

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman will host the factions on Tuesday and Wednesday to draft a common position on the truce proposal.

Following talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas gave his unconditional support on Sunday to Egypt's mediation effort.

Hamas said last week it was ready to accept a phased ceasefire that would start in Gaza and extend to the West Bank after six months. Israel raised doubts about the intentions of the Islamist movement, but suggested there could be a tacit truce if militants stopped their persistent rocket fire on Israel.

Hamas took control of the impoverished and densely populated Gaza Strip in June after ousting forces loyal to Abbas, whose government's writ now applies only in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

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