Gaza Militants Fire Rockets Into Israel

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An agreement between Hamas and Israel to bring quiet to the war-torn Gaza Strip could be announced within days, Hamas officials said, as rocket fired from the territory Friday further strained an informal cease-fire.

Two rockets fired by Gaza militants hit near a communal farm and the town of Sderot, the Israeli military said. No one was injured and no armed group took responsibility for the attack.

Rocket fire and shooting incidents along the Gaza-Israel border have persisted since the end of Israel’s devastating offensive against Hamas in the territory. Israel halted the operation on Jan. 18 and Hamas declared a cease-fire later the same day.

Friday’s rockets came as Hamas officials said talks in Cairo aimed at achieving a long-term truce were close to success.

A Hamas delegation is in the Egyptian capital and an Israeli envoy has been flying in periodically from Tel Aviv. Egypt is mediating between Israel and Hamas because the sides will not talk directly to each other.

Late on Thursday, Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk told Egypt’s official MENA news agency that the Islamic militant group has agreed to an 18-month truce with Israel. He said it would be announced within two days after the group consults with other Palestinian factions, the news agency reported. Abu Marzouk said the deal calls for Israel to reopen its border crossings into Gaza, fulfilling Hamas’ central demand.

The border crossings have been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since Hamas violently seized power in the territory in June, 2007, defeating its rivals from the Fatah movement.

Taher Nunu, a Hamas spokesman in Cairo with the group’s truce delegation, said Friday he expects an agreement “within the coming three days.” He said progress had been made on a cease-fire, on a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and on reconstruction funds for Gaza.

“Many obstacles have been resolved, especially stopping all forms of aggression and the issue of the quality and kind of goods (entering Gaza) and the opening of the border,” Nunu said in a statement e-mailed to reporters in Gaza.

Little has leaked from the Israeli side on the truce talks. In Jerusalem, government officials would not comment Friday.

Israeli defense officials said the talks were serious and making progress. An initial agreement could involve a partial opening of Gaza’s crossings, they said, with a later agreement to include the release of Sgt. Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas since 2006, in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners demanded by Hamas. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the details remain classified.

Talks on Schalit’s release have stalled over disagreements about which prisoners Israel would free. The hundreds of names on Hamas’ list include senior militants and masterminds of deadly suicide bombings.

It is unclear how the results of Israel’s national election this week are affecting the Cairo talks. The election ended with the moderate foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, winning one more parliament seat than hard-line Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. But with a majority of hard-line lawmakers now in parliament, Netanyahu has better chances of cobbling together a coalition government. He met with potential allies Friday. Coalition wrangling is expected to last weeks, at least.

A new government is likely to be either a hard-line coalition led by Netanyahu or a centrist coalition involving a power-sharing arrangement between Netanyahu and Livni.

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