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    Calm appears to hold in Gaza despite exchange of fire

    JERUSALEM (AP) – An unofficial cease fire appeared to be holding yesterday between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers despite limited exchanges of fire.

    Schools reopened in southern Israel and residents resumed their daily routines after a few overnight rocket attacks from Gaza that set off air-raid sirens, breaking a day-long lull.

    The Israeli military struck back against additional Hamas targets but there were no reports of casualties on either side.

    Both Israel and Hamas appeared ready to step back from the brink of a full-fledged confrontation.

    But violence could erupt again this weekend, when large-scale protests are expected along the Israel-Gaza frontier marking the anniversary of weekly rallies in which nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.

    The Israeli military bolstered its forces along the Gaza frontier in advance.

    Residents inspect the destroyed multi-storey building of a Hamas-affiliated insurance company in Gaza City on Tuesday. – AP

    Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and dozens of skirmishes since the militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

    The latest round was triggered by a Gaza rocket fired early Monday that slammed into a house in central Israel and wounded seven people.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed back to Israel from a trip to Washington to deal with the crisis.

    Israel struck back hard and hit dozens of targets in Gaza, including the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Gaza’s Health Ministry said seven Palestinians were wounded in the airstrikes.

    Netanyahu faced the difficult task of delivering a tough blow to Hamas while avoiding protracted fighting that could work against him in next month’s national elections.

    He has come under heavy criticism from both allies and opponents for what they say has been a failure to contain Gaza militants.

    He has conducted indirect cease fire talks through Egyptian mediators in recent months, and even allowed the delivery of millions of dollars of Qatari aid to Hamas to ease harsh conditions in the territory, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power in 2007.

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