Gaza Militants Agree to Halt Rocket Fire Against Israel

Egyptian officials had been working to cease-fire after weekend of escalating violence left nine Palestinian gunmen and an Israel civilian dead.

An Egyptian-brokered truce appeared to be taking hold on Sunday after a weekend of escalating violence between Israel and militants in Gaza left nine Palestinian gunmen and an Israeli civilian dead.

Three rockets were fired at Israel after the 6 A.M. starting time for the truce, the Israeli military said. Two were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile shield and another struck the south, causing no casualties or damage.

But the area fell quiet shortly after those attacks and by the afternoon no new violence was reported.

Islamic Jihad and two smaller factions claimed responsibility for rocket launchings over the past five days. Islamic Jihad has close ties with Iran and has chafed at the rule of rival Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.

Such flare-ups usually follow a familiar pattern - Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes over a period of several days before a gradual pullback from escalation that could lead to an Israeli ground push in Gaza.

An Islamic Jihad source, speaking several hours after the cease-fire was announced by Egyptian officials, said the group welcomed Cairo's efforts. Abu Ahmed, the leader of its armed wing said: "If the [Israeli] aggression is stopped, we will abide by calm."

Israel and Palestinian militants have used such language in the past in ceasing fire while stopping short of acknowledging any formal truce agreement.

"My interpretation is that these guys [Islamic Jihad] are keen to show off their clout, which has been built up recently," Yosef Kupperwasser, director-general of Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry, told Reuters.

The current round of cross-border violence began on Wednesday, when residents of Israeli suburbs in the southern approaches to Tel Aviv were jolted awake at night by sirens usually sounded in towns and villages closer to the Gaza Strip.

The alert was triggered by what Israeli security sources said was an upgraded long-range Grad rocket that struck harmlessly near the Israeli port of Ashdod, leading to an
Israeli air strike on Saturday that killed five top Islamic Jihad militants in a Gaza training camp.

Four other militants died in subsequent air attacks.

One of some 30 rockets and mortar bombs fired at Israel killed an Israeli man in the city of Ashkelon. Two other people were wounded.

"We seek no confrontation with the Palestinians and do not want to inflame the situation, but we will not absorb shelling after shelling without a response," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Saturday, threatening unspecified "consequences".

Israel kept schools shut in its southern region on Sunday as a precaution against further rocket fire, while hundreds of thousands of civilians within 40 km of Gaza were urged to stay indoors.

Islamic Jihad released images of what it said was the firing by its men of a truck-mounted multiple rocket-launcher, a platform not previously seen in Gaza.

Israel says Gaza arsenals have been boosted by gun-running from Libya since the fall of its ruler, Muammar Gadhafi.

The violence erupted after weeks of a relative lull surrounding a prisoner swap on October 18 in which Israel released 477 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas since 2006.