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Egyptian official: Israel, Gaza agree to cease-fire

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:22 PM EDT, Mon March 12, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The agreement was reached with the help of Egyptian mediators, the official says
  • NEW: An Israeli government spokesman did not immedaitely comment on the report
  • Seven people were killed Monday in Gaza, officials say
  • The U.N. secretary-general says he is "gravely concerned" by the violence

Gaza City (CNN) -- After days of pounding violence, Palestinian and Israeli authorities have agreed to a truce and to stop all military operations, an Egyptian intelligence official told CNN early Tuesday.

The agreement was reached with the help of Egyptian mediators, the official said.

Israeli government spokesman David Baker did not immediately comment on the reported cease-fire.

Seven people were killed Monday in Gaza, and more than three dozen rockets fell into Israel, the latest events in days of fighting that marked the worst escalation of violence in the coastal territory in months, officials said.

Israel said its airstrikes have targeted militant rocket launching sites across the Palestinian territory in response to more than 200 rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel since Friday. More than 36 rockets were fired into Israel on Monday, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said

In Gaza, at least 25 people have been killed in strikes since Friday, while at least 80 people have been wounded.

"When I was sleeping, all of a sudden I found the entire house falling on top of us," Gaza resident Samer Sukar said from a hospital bed. "What can I say? There was no rocket fire from near our house."

Sukar said he was injured in a blast Monday while he was at home with his wife and six children.

Israeli airstrikes target Gaza

Meanwhile, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, residents took cover.

"It's a very difficult time for us," said Eti Ifrah, 23. "It's impossible to live like this -- every time we want a shower or anything we're worried a bomb will fall."

Nearly 1 million people in Israel have sought the safety of shelters during the violence, authorities said.

The fighting is the worst outbreak of violence in Gaza this year and comes as Israel and the world's attention has been largely focused on Iran and Syria.

"I am gravely concerned at the latest escalation between Gaza and Israel, and once again civilians are paying a terrible price," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement Monday. "Rocket attacks out of Gaza against Israeli civilian areas are unacceptable and must stop immediately. I reiterate my call on Israel to exercise maximum restraint."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told lawmakers Monday that the military "is ready to expand its operations and continue them as necessary."

"The (Israeli military) is continuing to -- strongly and decisively -- attack the terrorists in the Gaza Strip," he said. "Whoever intends to harm our citizens -- we will strike at him."

A spokesman for the militant group Islamic Jihad warned Israeli citizens Monday to stay in their bunkers, vowing the group would fire more rockets into southern Israel.

Speaking at a press conference Monday in Gaza City, Abu Ahmad boasted his group had fired dozens of longer-range Grad rockets into Israel and a larger number of smaller short-range rockets.

He spoke later to the Islamic Jihad radio station, warning Israel "not to test our patience."

Twelve Israeli military tanks have moved some 200 meters inside the Gaza border area, according to Palestinian security forces in Gaza.

Gaza officials cautioned Monday that any further escalation of hostilities would tax the fragile health care system.

"If we face a new war on Gaza, I am sure the health system will collapse," said Bassem Naim, the minister of health in the Hamas-controlled government.

Three civilians and four militants were reported killed in Gaza on Monday, but Israeli and Palestinian officials offered different accounts of the violence.

Palestinian medical officials said an Israeli airstrike killed a civilian man and woman and injured three others Monday afternoon in the northern Gaza neighborhood of Beit Lahia.

The Israeli military said its strike hit a residential area from which militants fired a rocket.

"This incident is a blatant example of how terror organizations use human shields to carry out terror attacks from the heart of urban areas and, as occurred in this incident, lead to the apparent injury of uninvolved persons," the military said.

Israeli and Palestinian officials also offered conflicting accounts of another blast Monday that killed a 15-year-old boy in Gaza.

Palestinian medical and security sources said an Israeli airstrike killed the teen, but the Israeli military said it did not attack the area where the death was reported.

"We did not attack during those hours of the morning in the northern Gaza Strip," Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich told CNN, saying that Israeli military activity during the time was focused on southern Gaza.

"One of the possibilities is that one of the terrorist organizations in Gaza fired a rocket that landed inside Gaza," Leibovich said, noting that some two dozen rockets fired by Palestinians militants in the last four days have landed inside Gaza.

Two militants also were killed in overnight airstrikes in southern Gaza, Palestinian officials said, and 40 people were injured. Later, Palestinian officials said two more Islamic Jihad militants were killed and a third was injured in an airstrike "east of Gaza." An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was looking into the report.

The deaths brought the number of Palestinians killed since Friday afternoon to 25, with more than 80 injured, according to Palestinian medical officials.

Netanyahu suggested Sunday that the new cycle of attacks and counterattacks resulted from a successful Israeli strike on "an arch-terrorist who organized many attacks against the state of Israel."

"Naturally, this led to another round with the Popular Resistance Committees, Islamic Jihad and other groups," Netanyahu said, naming Palestinian militant groups.

CNN's Talal Abu Rahma, Guy Azriel, Kevin Flower, Kareem Khadder, Josh Levs and journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report.

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