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Israeli aircraft strike suspected weapons-making targets in Gaza Strip

Israeli President Shimon Peres, left, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held a press conference in Cairo on Sunday about the Middle East crisis.

Associated Press

Israeli President Shimon Peres, left, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held a press conference in Cairo on Sunday about the Middle East crisis.

JERUSALEM — Israeli aircraft attacked two suspected weapons-making factories and a smuggling tunnel in the Gaza Strip early Sunday in what the military said was retaliation for Palestinian rocket fired into southern Israel.

The air strikes, which wounded at least seven, came despite an announcement by Gaza's Hamas rulers that the territory's military factions had all agreed to stop firing rockets. The Hamas announcement came late Saturday, after the rocket attack.

Hamas' interior minister, Fathi Hamad, said the proclaimed halt in rocket fire was designed to prevent Israeli retaliation and provide stability for Gaza, which continues to suffer from the aftermath of a massive Israeli offensive in December and January.

The offensive killed about 1,400 Palestinians, according to U.N. and Palestinian estimates, and damaged or destroyed thousands of homes. Thirteen Israelis also were killed. Most of the damage in Gaza has not been repaired due to an Israeli blockade that has prevented construction materials from entering the territory.

Israel said it launched the offensive to crush Palestinian rocket squads, who had severely disrupted life in southern Israel for years. While Hamas has all but halted its own rocket fire, smaller militant groups have continued to launch attacks, though the number of attacks has decreased dramatically.

On Sunday, Islamic Jihad, a smaller faction responsible for much of the rocket fire, said there is "no formal truce," but confirmed it would temporarily stop its attacks.

An end to Palestinian rocket attacks could lead toward a broader prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas. The Iranian-backed Hamas is demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who was captured by Hamas-allied militants more than three years ago.

Israeli construction criticized

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday criticized Israeli construction in east Jerusalem, telling Israeli President Shimon Peres that settlement activity in the disputed sector of the holy city, which Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital, threatens to anger the entire Muslim world. Mubarak also said that the time had passed for talk on temporary solutions and borders — which has been floated as a step to solving the crisis — saying a final peace deal should be concluded swiftly. "I expressed my concern to President Peres that peace talks have not progressed since our last meeting in July and that Egypt is looking forward to an Israeli response, such as halting the building of settlements in east Jerusalem," he said.

Associated Press

Israeli aircraft strike suspected weapons-making targets in Gaza Strip 11/22/09 [Last modified: Sunday, November 22, 2009 10:12pm]
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