THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Israeli strikes wound 7 in Gaza

Hamas promises end to rocket fire

By Josef Federman
Associated Press / November 23, 2009

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JERUSALEM - Israeli aircraft attacked two suspected weapons-making factories and a smuggling tunnel in the Gaza Strip early yesterday in what the military said was retaliation for Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel.

The air strikes, which wounded at least seven people, including one seriously, were launched despite an announcement by Gaza’s Hamas rulers that the territory’s military factions had all agreed to stop firing rockets.

The Hamas announcement was made late Saturday, after the rocket attack.

Hamas’s interior minister, Fathi Hamad, said the proclaimed halt in rocket fire was designed to prevent Israeli retaliation and provide stability for Gaza, which continues to suffer from the aftermath of a massive Israeli military offensive in December and January.

The offensive killed some 1,400 Palestinians, according to UN and Palestinian estimates, and damaged or destroyed thousands of homes. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.

Most of the damage in Gaza has not been repaired because of an Israeli blockade that has prevented construction materials from entering the territory.

Israel said it launched the offensive to crush the Palestinian rocket squads that had severely disrupted life in southern Israel for years.

While Hamas has all but halted its own rocket fire, smaller militant groups have continued to launch attacks, though the number of attacks has decreased dramatically.

Yesterday, Islamic Jihad, a smaller faction responsible for much of the rocket fire, said there is “no formal truce,’’ but confirmed it would temporarily stop its attacks.

An end to Palestinian rocket attacks could be an important step toward a broader prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas.

The Iranian-backed Hamas is demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Sergeant Gilad Schalit, who was captured by Hamas-allied militants more than three years ago.

Usama Mazeini, a Hamas official involved in the German-brokered negotiations over Schalit, told Hamas newsletter al-Risala on Saturday that the talks are close to resolving the “obstacles’’ that remain. He gave no further details.

Israel’s army chief, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, said yesterday that he was “sober’’ about the prospects for a deal, but that media reports about the matter threatened progress.