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Egyptian mediators seek to restore calm after Gaza violence flares

Egyptian mediators seek to restore calm after Gaza violence flares
A Hamas fighter prays next to the rubble of a destroyed military base following Israeli airstrikes in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. (Khalil Hamra / Associated Pres)

A high-level Egyptian delegation on Wednesday held urgent talks with Gaza's Hamas rulers, seeking to restore calm after a rocket from the Palestinian area slammed into a home in southern Israel and the Israeli military responded with airstrikes on Hamas targets.

The predawn flare-up in violence appeared to be pushing the region toward another conflagration between the bitter enemies. But by late Wednesday, there were signs that the situation was calming down.

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As the Egyptian mediators arrived, Hamas and a second militant group, Islamic Jihad, issued a joint statement that made rare criticism of the rocket attack, suggesting that they were trying to defuse the situation.

"We reject all irresponsible attempts that try to change the direction and sabotage the Egyptian efforts, including the overnight firing of the rocket," they said. "At the same time, we emphasize we are ready to confront the Israeli aggression."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to the Gaza border area to meet with senior security officials, and planned a meeting of his decision-making Security Cabinet later in the evening.

"If these attacks will not stop, we will stop them. And I want to tell you today, Israel will act with great force," he said.

Israel and Hamas, an Islamist group that seeks Israel's destruction, have fought three wars since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. Israel and Egypt have also maintained a blockade over the territory since the Hamas takeover. The restrictions, aimed at weakening Hamas, have ravaged Gaza's economy.

Hamas has led mass protests along the border with Israel for the last six months, seeking to put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade. Those protests have intensified in recent weeks as Egyptian and U.N. attempts to broker a truce have faltered.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's rocket attack, which struck a home in the southern city of Beersheba, some 30 miles from Gaza.

Israeli officials said a woman and her three children whose home was hit evaded harm by rushing to a bomb shelter after warning sirens woke them up shortly before 4 a.m.

As a first response, Israeli military jets pounded Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Health Ministry said a 25-year-old militant was killed inside one of the posts targeted. Three others were wounded.

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