Palestinians: Egypt Trying to Mediate Hamas-Israel Truce

Two of the rockets were fired Wednesday evening after long hours of relative quite. One of the rockets exploded in an open field in the Eshkol area.

Egypt was trying to mediate a truce between Israel and Hamas to end the last round of violence that had approximately 80 rockets and mortar shells fired at the areas surrounding the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official told Reuters Wednesday.

"The contacts Cairo made resulted in a verbal promise by Hamas to calm the situation down and Israel said it was monitoring calm on the ground and would refrain from attacks unless it was subject to rocket fire from Gaza," said the official, who is close to the talks.

Two of the rockets were fired Wednesday evening after long hours of relative quite. One of the rockets exploded in an open field in the Eshkol area. Later, another landed within the Gaza Strip.

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to ensure that every community within seven kilometers of the Gaza Strip was properly protected against rocket fire.

The premier spoke during a tour near an Iron Dome battery, after at least 80 rockets and mortar shells struck areas in the Eshkol Regional Council, Shaar Hanegev and the Ashkelon coast over the course of the day. An Iron Dome battery stationed in the region intercepted seven rockets that were fired at Ashkelon.

Netanyahu said he decided to "reinforce protection in every area between 4.5 km to 7 kilometers [from the Gaza border], and as such complete the defense of the southern residents."

As part of this plan, some 1,700 homes in the Gaza envelope will now receive security reinforcements. The project will cost an estimated NIS 250 million.

The decision was made in coordination with the ministers of defense and the home front, said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu's announcement came just hours after Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared that the government must "quickly decide to expand the defense" to the 1,700 homes within 7 km of the border.

As of now, not all Israeli communities within mid-range of Gaza rockets are properly reinforced to protect against the fire.

All communities up to 4.5 kilometers from the border are completely reinforced, and those more than 7 kilometers from the border are protected by the Iron Dome battery. In the mid-range of 4.5-7 kilometers, however, only educational institutions are fully reinforced.

"We didn't choose this escalation and we didn't invite it, but if it continues, we are prepared to undertake a much wider and deeper operation [against Gaza]," said Netanyahu. "In any case, we will continue foiling the forces at work. Whoever tries to harm Israeli citizens needs to know that the blood is on his own head."

Three foreign workers were wounded in the violence on Wednesday when the chicken coop where they were working was struck by a mortar shell. Also, damage was done to eight houses in Eshkol and the Ashkelon coast, some of which after taking direct hits.

The Israel Defense Forces responded with tank fire and aerial assaults of targets in the Gaza Strip, killing four Palestinians and wounding at least eight. Over the course of the day, the IDF struck eight times, four by the Israeli Air Force.

Residents of the region were instructed to remain in bomb shelters, and schools were canceled.

An army bomb-disposal expert examining a fragment of one of the rockets in south Israel on Sunday.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Rockets hit southern Israel
Ilan Assayag