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Egypt presses on with truce efforts in Gaza

Smoke and sand are seen following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza August 25, 2014. 
CREDIT: REUTERS/AHMED ZAKOT
Smoke and sand are seen following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza August 25, 2014. CREDIT: REUTERS/AHMED ZAKOT

BY NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI

GAZA 

(Reuters) - Israeli air strikes killed at least five Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and militants kept up their rocket fire on southernIsrael on Monday, witnesses and officials said, as Egypt pressed on with efforts to broker a durable truce.

Gazans said they received new recorded messages on mobile phones and landlines saying Israel would target any house used to launch "terror attacks" and telling civilians to leave areas used my militants.

Israeli aircraft attacked four homes in the Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, near the Israeli border, killing two women and a girl, witnesses and health officials said.

Locals told Reuters a member of the Hamas militant group that dominates Gaza lived in one of the dwellings. Separate attacks elsewhere in the Gaza Strip killed two other Palestinians, said officials.

Militants launched about 40 rockets at southern Israel on Monday, causing no casualties, the army said.

Palestinian health officials say 2,119 people, most of them civilians including more than 400 children, have been killed in Gaza since July 8, when Israel launched an offensive with the declared aim of ending rocket fire into its territory.

Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and four civilians in Israel have been killed.

Gazans said they had received messages on their phones for several days, with a new recording on Monday ending with the words: "To Hamas leaders and to the residents of Gaza: The battle is open and you have been warned."

INDEFINITE CEASEFIRE PROPOSED

Qais Abu Leila, a senior Palestinian official involved in Egyptian-mediated talks to reach a truce in seven weeks of fighting, said Cairo had proposed an indefinite ceasefire.

Cairo's latest initiative calls for the immediate opening of Gaza's crossings with Israel andEgypt to aid reconstruction efforts in the battered coastal strip to be followed by talks on a longer-term easing of the blockade.

"Egyptian efforts are continuing. The ball is in the Israeli court, and they have not responded to this proposal 36 hours after it was referred to them," Abu Leila told Reuters.

Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the enclave of 1.8 million people is lifted.

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are demanding guarantees that weapons will not enter the economically-crippled territory. Israel recalled its negotiators from Cairo on Tuesday after a ceasefire collapsed.

In Gaza City on Sunday, an Israeli strike on a car killed Mohammed al-Ghoul, described by the Israeli military as a Hamas official responsible for "terror fund transactions". U.S. dollars were found in the wrecked vehicle, witnesses said.

Israel later bombed and destroyed Ghoul's house. He was targeted three days after Israel assassinated three top Hamas commanders in the southern Gaza Strip.

Thousands of homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or damaged in the conflict. Nearly 500,000 people have been displaced in the territory where Palestinians, citing Israeli attacks that have hit schools and mosques, say no place is safe.

Israel has said Hamas bears responsibility for civilian casualties because it operates among non-combatants. The group, it said, uses schools and mosques to store weapons and as launching sites for cross-border rocket attacks.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Noah Browning in Ramallah; Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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