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Gaza militants agree ceasefire

Gaza's militant groups have agreed to a ceasefire aimed at ending three days of violence sparked by a deadly attack across the Egyptian border on Israeli vehicles.

The sudden upsurge also threatened Israel-Egypt relations after three Egyptian police were killed as the cross-border clash developed. Egypt complained strongly as thousands demonstrated in Cairo, prompting an apology from Israel.

A senior Hamas official said militant groups in Gaza had agreed that the truce would go into effect on Sunday evening and that Hamas security personnel would enforce the agreement brokered by Egypt. The official said Egypt told the groups that Israel would agree to halt its air strikes only if the Palestinians stopped the rocket fire first.

A spokesman for Israel's government would not comment, and it was not clear if the ceasefire would take effect or hold.

Earlier on Sunday, rockets from Gaza struck an empty school and sent thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters. Israel responded with air strikes as diplomats attempted to halt the violence.

Some of the diplomatic efforts were aimed at limiting the fallout from the deaths of the three Egyptian police. On Sunday morning, an Israeli envoy arrived at Cairo's international airport and was whisked off in a convoy of four waiting cars, airport officials said. Israel's government would not comment on the envoy's identity or the details of his mission. A second unidentified envoy arrived later today, the Egyptian officials said.

Diplomats in Cairo and Jerusalem said the US, France and Germany were working with the Israelis and Egyptians to end the diplomatic spat.

Alongside the diplomacy, Israel threatened to intensify its attacks if the rocket barrages continued. Speaking to Israel Radio, military spokesman Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai said Israel "will not hesitate" to widen its military operation if necessary.

Large-scale Israeli military operations in Gaza would create new friction with the Muslim world at a time when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is preparing to ask the United Nations to recognise an independent Palestinian state.

A spokesman said Abbas' Palestinian Authority planned to use the renewed violence to bolster its case for statehood at the UN next month. Since Thursday's ambush, militants have fired some 100 rockets and mortars into Israel. On Saturday, rockets killed an Israeli man in Beersheba and seriously wounded two others.

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