Gaza Rockets Rain Down as Israel Mulls Response to Bloodshed


Israelis and Palestinians woke up to a fourth day of violence on Sunday, with militants firing 17 rockets into Israel despite an unusually quiet night in Gaza just hours after a rocket killed an Israeli.

Tensions in and around the Gaza Strip have soared since Thursday when militants staged a series of bloody shooting attacks in the Negev desert, killing eight Israelis and prompting a wave of bloody tit-for-tat exchanges.

It also sparked a diplomatic crisis with Egypt after Cairo said five policemen were killed by Israeli fire as soldiers hunted down the remaining gunmen involved in the Negev ambushes.

Since Thursday, 15 Palestinians have been killed, nine of them militants, and 47 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza, while one Israeli has been killed and dozens injured in a barrage of more than 100 rockets and mortars fired on cities and towns in the south.

On Saturday night, rockets hit the southern city of Beersheva some 40 kilometers (24 miles) from Gaza, killing a man and injuring 15, one of whom was in critical condition, Israeli medics said.

But the skies over Gaza remained ominously quiet overnight.

Shortly after the hit on Beersheva, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his inner forum to discuss Israel's response to the violence, although a senior diplomatic official quoted by Haaretz insisted the focus was on containment.

"No-one wants an Operation Cast Lead 2," he told the newspaper, referring to Israel's devastating 22-day operation in Gaza over New Year 2009 which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 11 Israelis.

That operation, which ended in January 2009 with a truce which has largely held, was launched to stamp out persistent rocket fire on southern Israel.

The Popular Resistance Committees, a radical militant group blamed by Israel for Thursday's bloodshed, claimed Saturday's deadly rocket fire on Beersheva, while the armed wing of Hamas said it had fired four Grad rockets at Ofakim, lightly wounding two children.

It was the first time the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades had claimed any rocket fire on southern Israel since April when a truce was declared following a similar escalation which saw the air force killing 19 after an anti-tank missile killed a youngster on an Israeli school bus.

But it made no mention of an end to the April 10 truce agreement, which was brokered by Hamas and agreed to by all the main militant factions.

Following the claim, Israel forces began a major operation in the southern West Bank, arresting 120 members of the Islamist Hamas movement, including an MP, Palestinian security sources said.

The military refused to comment on the operation, which the Palestinians said was still ongoing by mid-morning.

In Dura village, youngsters protested the operation by hurling stones at troops, who fired rubber bullets moderately injuring one youngster, medics said.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council over Israel's attacks on Gaza, while the Arab League was to hold emergency talks on Sunday to discuss the situation, which prompted worried murmurs from the international community.

On the diplomatic front, Israel said it had not been officially notified of any intention by Cairo to recall its ambassador over the deaths of five policemen.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Saturday expressed "regret" over the killing and promised a full investigation, but Cairo said it did not go far enough.

In Cairo, more than 1,000 protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy with one man scaling the building and replacing the Israeli flag with an Egyptian one to roars of approval.

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