Gaza rocket hits near southern Israeli city in show of defiance

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meet with top seucirty officials at IDF military's headquarters in Tel Aviv early Thursday

Israel has fought three wars in the past decade with Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza strip.

As part of a cease-fire deal, Israel is insisting that Hamas stop sending incendiary kites and balloons over the border, Israeli and Palestinian officials say.

The flare-up comes as Egypt is trying to broker a long-term cease-fire between the two sides.

"Factions of the resistance consider this round of escalation over as far as we are concerned, and the continuation of calm depends on the behaviour of the occupation", the Palestinian official said.

A Palestinian official with knowledge of the ceasefire talks said Thursday that the truce was to begin at 20:45 GMT.

The building is home to a popular theater and exhibits plays and other shows on a daily basis.

In a statement, the Israeli army claimed to have struck at least 140 targets across the Gaza Strip in recent days, also claiming that Gaza-based resistance groups had fired 80 rockets into southern Israel - 25 of which were intercepted - over the same period.

Hundreds of Palestinian mourners took part in the funeral for the woman and the baby on Thursday in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah.

He added that he didn't think that an Israeli military campaign would lead to an escalation of violence on Israel's other borders.

Ambulance sirens echoed through the night in Gaza, where families huddled at home as powerful explosions shook buildings. Across the border rocket warning sirens sounded nearly non-stop from sunset on Wednesday in Israeli towns and villages where residents sheltered in bunkers.

Gaza militants had at around noon halted fire after targeting Israel with some 180 rockets and mortars beginning Wednesday night and into Thursday.

Twenty-five miles from the border, air raid sirens sounded in Israel's main southern city, Beersheba.

Hamas warned Israel it would pay for the attack, and on Wednesday the army said shots were fired at civilian engineers working on an underground barrier along the border, prompting the military to respond with tank fire. Israeli Police said they found its remnants in an open area on the outskirts of the city of 200,000 people and that no one was hurt.

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An Egyptian-Palestinian cultural society also has an office in the building.

Over the past four months, 163 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including at least 120 protesters, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and a local rights group.

The Israeli military said it only struck military targets, including production sites for weapons and tunnels.

It was a show of force and defiance by Palestinian militants ahead of a meeting of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet, where terms for a possible truce were likely to be on the agenda.

A brief statement was issued immediately after the meeting, saying: "The IDF has been instructed to continue to act forcefully against perpetrators of terror".

In southern Israel, two Thai laborers were among the seven wounded by rocket or mortar fire, and rockets damaged buildings in the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon.

The U.S. State Department condemned the launching of missile attacks into Israel.

A top Hamas official told The Associated Press that the group waited for the delegation to leave Gaza before responding with rocket fire late Wednesday.

Israel captured Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war but withdrew in 2005, while holding onto most of the separate West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self-rule.

According to the IDF Spokesperson, the interior security unit of Hamas is "responsible for all security operations carried out inside Gaza, and is considered to be an executive branch of Hamas' political leadership".

Yuval Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu's inner cabinet, told Israel Radio before the Palestinian official's comments that Israel was "not eager for war" but would make no concessions to Hamas.

He added that "if the current escalation however is not contained immediately, the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people".

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