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Israel, Gaza militants agree to truce: Egypt official

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Israel and militant factions in the Gaza Strip have agreed to an Egyptian-brokered truce to end four days of cross-border violence in which 25 Palestinians have been killed, a senior Egyptian security official told Reuters on Tuesday.

The official said in a telephone call from Cairo that both sides had "agreed to end the current operations", with Israel giving an unusual undertaking to "stop assassinations", and an overall agreement "to begin a comprehensive and mutual calm".

The agreement was set to take effect at 1 a.m. local time (2300 GMT). There was no immediate comment from either side on the agreement. Previous ceasefire deals after earlier rounds of fighting have often got off to a shaky start.

Israeli media quoted Israeli officials as reiterating the longstanding policy that Israel would "answer quiet with quiet" but stopped short of providing any guarantees to withhold fire in response to rocket attacks.

An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment.

Israel signaled earlier it would not halt what it calls "preventive targeting" operations aimed at stopping rocket fire and cross-border attacks.

"The Israeli army will continue to attack the terrorists in Gaza with strength and determination," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told lawmakers in his Likud party on Sunday.

But while Israel was keen to bar rocket fire at its homefront there seemed to be little public enthusiasm for waging a longer military campaign reminiscent of a 2008-2009 offensive in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

PALESTINIAN FACTIONS "COMMITTED"

A Palestinian official close to the talks said "the factions are committed," alluding to the Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees, who were most active in the fighting, but that these groups were waiting to see how Israel would respond.

Gaza's Hamas Islamist leadership, whose own cadres have kept out of the fighting and seemed eager to avoid a larger conflict with Israel, had confirmed on Sunday that Egypt was working on a deal to stop the violence.

The truce agreement also followed appeals from world powers - the United States, the United Nations, France, European Union and the Arab League - for both sides to exercise restraint.

Israel said Gaza militants had fired about 150 rockets at its southern towns and cities from Gaza since fighting flared on Friday after Israel killed a senior militant it accused of plotting to attack Israel from Egyptian territory.

Eight Israelis were injured by the rockets, dozens of which were shot down harmlessly by Israel's "Iron Dome" missile interceptor system.

Twenty of the Palestinians killed since fighting flared in the Hamas-controlled enclave were militants and five were civilians, according to medical officials.

At least 80 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been wounded in the violence which also paralyzed life in much of southern Israel, forcing schools to close and hundreds of thousands to remain indoors.

Gaza, home to 1.7 million people, was under Israeli occupation from 1967 until 2005 and remains under blockade.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since seizing it from West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, and is fighting for an independent Palestinian state but has shunned the stalled peace process supervised by international powers and refuses to recognize the Jewish state.

Violent flareups have been frequent between Israel and Gaza's militant factions in the past few years, in most cases lasting no longer than a week.

The last conflagration of this intensity was in August after a cross-border attack launched from Egypt killed seven in Israel and Israel struck back killing 15 Gaza gunmen.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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