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Hamas rockets threaten efforts to agree a truce

TWO rockets fired by Palestinian militants struck southern Israel yesterday, Israel's military said, violating an informal truce even as Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers appeared to be moving closer to cementing a long-term cease-fire.

Palestinian rockets exploded in the Nir Am communal farm and Israel's southern city of Ashkelon. No injuries were reported in either report, though cars and buildings were damaged.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack.

Meanwhile, one of Gaza's Hamas leaders was in Syria, consulting his Hamas bosses about truce talks, while Israel's defense minister warned Israelis they would have to pay a painful price as part of any deal.

The flurry of activity came just two days before Israelis elect a new government expected to take a harder line in talks with the Palestinians.

Israeli elections will take place tomorrow, and both sides appear to be racing to reach an arrangement. Polls show Israel's next government will be more hawkish than the current coalition, lending added urgency to seal a deal.

Israel wants militants to halt their attacks, end arms smuggling into Gaza and release an Israeli soldier Hamas forces have held captive for more than two years.

Hamas wants an end to Israel's economic blockade of Gaza, which has severely restricted the movement of goods in and out of Gaza.

On January 18, Israel unilaterally ended a blistering, three-week offensive in Gaza, meant to halt years of rocket fire on southern Israeli communities. Some 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the war, according to Gaza health officials and 13 Israelis died, according to the government. Vast areas of Gaza were destroyed or heavily damaged. Hamas announced its own cease-fire the same day.

Egypt has been trying to broker a long-term cease-fire, but sporadic violence persists.


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