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Israel may end attacks in the Gaza

Israel announced last night it was close to ending the bloody fighting it launched three weeks ago in the Gaza Strip.

A spokesman for the government said it was “possible” that cabinet ministers would take a decision on a ceasefire as early as the weekend.

But he added Israel was first waiting to receive reports from envoys in Cairo and Washington to discuss terms of a truce.

Chief Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad was in Egypt on his second trip in two days to discuss an Egyptian truce proposal.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni travelled to the US to agree a deal with Washington on blocking arms smuggling to Hamas militants.

Earlier, during a visit to the West Bank, UN chief Ban Ki-moon had called on Israel to take unilateral action. “I strongly urge Israeli leadership and government to declare a cease-fire unilaterally,” Mr Ki-moon said from Ramallah, the seat of the West Bank government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a fierce rival of Hamas.

“It’s time to think about a unilateral cease-fire from the Israeli government,” he said.

But Israel dismissed the idea. “I don’t believe there’s a logical expectation that Israel unilaterally ceasefire while Hamas continue to target cities, trying to kill our people,” said a spokesman.

More than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on December 27, including 346 children.

The death toll rose by 36 yesterday, including 25 whose bodies were unearthed from rubble.

Thirteen Israelis have been killed, four by rocket fire, according to the military.

Ms Livni signed a memorandum of understanding with the US in Washington over ways to stop arms smuggling to Hamas. Before leaving, she made clear that halting arms smuggling was a crucial part of any truce deal.

“Israel is going to retain its right to defend itself anyway, also when it comes to the smuggling of weapons, not only to rockets being fired at Israel,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military kept up pressure on Hamas. Aircraft struck about 40 targets all over Gaza.

Palestinian medics said an 11-year-old girl was killed in a shelling in northern Gaza and witnesses reported an airstrike on a Gaza City mosque as people were headed there for prayers. Militants fired rockets at Israel 10 times, injuring three, including one critically, officials said.

In the West Bank, medics said Israeli soldiers shot dead a 20-year-old Palestinian during a protest against Israel’s Gaza offensive.

Witnesses said demonstrators hurled rocks at troops who stopped them from marching into Hebron. They said the soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, but the man killed was hit by a live round.

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