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Fragile Gaza cease-fire off to a rocky start

October 30, 2011 | 11:03 am

Rocket gaza

REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM — A tentative calm took began to take hold Sunday after days of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, but Israeli leaders denied there was a cease-fire. 

Islamic Jihad announced Sunday it had accepted a cease-fire brokered by Egypt, though the militant group said it reserved the right to respond to Israeli attacks. An attempt at a cease-fire earlier in the day sputtered as 11 rockets were fired at southern Israel.

Yoav Mordechai, an Israeli army spokesman, told Israel Radio that the military had no dialogue with Islamic Jihad. The army, he said, would continue to act when it needed to. On Saturday, Israel launched an air strike that reportedly killed five Palestinian militants.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Jerusalem did not seek a worsening of hostilities but he vowed Israel would defend itself.

Shortly after Netanyahu spoke at the inauguration Sunday of a branch of the Bar Ilan University's medical school in Safed, Israel struck at a purported militant cell in Gaza, reportedly killing one Palestinian.

Israeli observers say neither Hamas nor Israel is interested in an escalation of hostilities. Hamas' chief interest, radio commentator Gal Berger said, is to ensure it doesn't pay a price for this round. Hamas, he said, will try to keep things at a containable level so it doesn't join Islamic Jihad as an Israeli target.

But he said Palestinian militant factions assume Israel's margin for maneuver in Gaza is limited by Egyptian public opinion. If Israel fears a rift with Egypt, this could determine the length of rope at its disposal for use in Gaza, Berger said.

Opposition lawmaker Shaul Mofaz, head of the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee, said in a radio interview that Islamic Jihad could be trying to show that it too is a player in Gaza.

Palestinian Authority spokesmen urged the militant factions in Gaza to act with restraint and deny Israel a reason for stronger action. The first rocket launched from Gaza in this round came the same day representatives of the Mideast quartet met with Israeli and Palestinian officials in attempt to renew direct peace talks.

A statement by Richard Miron, spokesman for special United Nations envoy to the Middle East Robert Serry, issued an "appeal for calm and an end to the violence of bloodshed," reported Palestinian news agency Maan.

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— Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photo: An Israeli man at a funeral in Ashkelon puts his hand on the grave of a relative killed last week by a rocket launched into southern Israel by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip. Credit: David Buimovitch /AFP / Getty Images

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