Gaza Fighting Continues, Despite Truce Efforts
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GAZA -- Egypt and Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, made efforts to restore calm on Sunday, as cross-border fighting between Israel and smaller Palestinian groups in Gaza simmered for a third day.
The cease-fire efforts were not immediately effective: Israel continued to strike at Gaza militant squads from the air as they launched rockets against southern Israel, albeit with waning intensity.
Israel's airstrikes, which have been aimed mostly at rocket-launching squads, claimed the lives of a boy, 12, and a man, 63, in Gaza on Sunday, officials said, the first civilian deaths in this round of hostilities.
Hamas officials said they were in contact with militant factions like the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad, the groups who have claimed responsibility for most of the rocket fire against Israel in recent days. Sixteen of their fighters have been killed in Israeli airstrikes since Friday.
A short statement from the office of Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, said that Egypt was also "working around the clock to stop the aggression," referring to the Israeli airstrikes. Egypt has brokered several previous truces between Israel and Gaza.
But Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees issued statements rejecting the efforts to end the hostilities, saying it was too early to discuss a cease-fire and vowing to retaliate for the deaths of their comrades.
The current confrontation began Friday when Israeli air-to-ground missiles killed the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, Zuhair al-Qissi, and his assistant in Gaza.
Israel said the attack was aimed at thwarting a cross-border terrorist attack the group was planning to carry out from Egypt. Israel holds the group responsible for an attack from Egypt last August in which eight Israelis were killed.
The group also claimed responsibility for the capture of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in a cross-border raid with Hamas in 2006.
The 12-year-old boy killed Sunday, identified by a Gaza medical official as Ayoub Useila, was playing outside in northern Gaza with two of his young cousins, who were lightly wounded. Hours later, a man guarding an orchard in Gaza City, Adel Essi, 63, was killed by shrapnel from another missile.
Residents of the area said that the airstrike was aimed at militants who were nearby.
Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, acknowledged the death of the boy in a briefing to the Israeli cabinet on Sunday morning, saying that the boy was "uninvolved" in the fighting, according to a statement from Mr. Barak's office.
At least 95 rockets have fallen in Israeli territory since Friday, according to the Israeli military. On Sunday, two rockets slammed into residential neighborhoods of the southern city of Beersheba, damaging a school, a house and several vehicles but causing no injury.
The military said that 37 rockets headed for major cities were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome antirocket missile defense system.
Still, the lives of more than a million Israelis living within range of rockets from Gaza were severely disrupted. Schools were closed, and residents were instructed to stay close to shelters and other protected areas.
The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited southern Israel on Sunday.
"My instructions are to strike at anyone planning to harm us," he said. "The combination of offensive capabilities, defensive capabilities and civilian resilience is a winning combination, and we have it."
Fares Akram reported from Gaza, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.
First Published March 12, 2012 12:01 am