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Gaza fighting abates as diplomatic tension flares

Israel eased its assaults in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian rocket fire from the enclave declined sharply on Monday, the military said, with both the United States and United Nations calling for a durable ceasefire.

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As international pressure mounted to end a 21-day conflict in which more than 1,000 people have been killed, an Israeli military official said the army would only respond to attacks for an indefinite period.”The situation now is an unlimited truce,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brigadier General Motti Almoz, told Israel Radio. “The IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) is free to attack after any fire if there is any.” The Islamist Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip said on Sunday it wanted a 24-hour truce to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which started on Monday. In the hours after its announcement, Gaza gradually fell quiet.

However, the lull appeared fragile amid diplomatic tension between Israel and its main sponsor, the United States. Sirens warning of incoming rockets from Gaza sounded in some Israeli communities near the border.

Israeli troops meanwhile continued to hunt and destroy cross-border militant tunnels inside Gaza, and it was not clear if Hamas was ready to agree to a prolonged pause.

A single rocket was fired out of the battered coastal territory at the Israeli city of Ashkelon in the first nine hours of Monday, according to the Israeli military, which said it struck two rocket launchers and a weapon manufacturing site in the northern and central Gaza strip.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said a seven-year-old boy was killed in one of the attacks.

Hamas’s armed wing said it killed two Israeli soldiers in the northern Gaza Strip. An Israeli military spokeswoman said a soldier was wounded there but she knew of no fatalities.

Some residents in Gaza reported they had received a recorded telephone message on Monday which said in Arabic: “Listen Hamas, if you are still alive, you should know that if you continue, we will respond, we will respond violently.”

Israeli leaflets dropped over Gaza listed dozens of names of gunmen from Hamas and its ally, Islamic Jihad, that the military says it has killed since the start of the offensive.

“This list is part of the names of those who thought they could face the might of the Israeli Defense Forces,” read the leaflet, which included a map to a graveyard where the militants were allegedly buried.

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