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MID: Israeli troops fire at gunmen in Gaza City: army

18 Jan 2009 6:13 PM

GAZA CITY, Jan 18 AFP - Militants in the Gaza Strip fired five rockets into Israel on Sunday, in the first such attack since the Jewish state began a unilateral ceasefire to its war on Hamas, the army said.

"We have had at least five launches from the Gaza Strip and four of them fell in the area of Sderot," an army spokesman said referring to an Israeli town five kilometres from the Gaza border.

There no immediate reports of casualties.

Earlier, an Israeli tank unit fired at armed gunmen in Gaza City on Sunday when troops came under fire just hours after a truce went into effect in the enclave, the army said.

The clash was the first since Israel began implementing a unilateral ceasefire to its 22-day-old war on Hamas.

"An Israeli force came under fire and a tank unit responded by firing toward the armed men and reported hitting several of them," an army spokeswoman told AFP, adding that the incident occurred in the Tuffah neighbourhood of the territory's main city.

The incident could not be immediately confirmed by Palestinian officials.

Earlier Israeli public radio said a helicopter fired a round of gunfire somewhere over the city and television images showed a chopper firing flares over Gaza City.

Witnesses also said there was a short exchange of gunfire between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops near the southern town of Rafah before dawn, but the army did not confirm the report.

Israeli tanks pulled back some 100 metres (yards) from their positions east of the southern city of Rafah and near the northern town of Jabaliya, witnesses said.

Gaza medics took advantage of the calm to rush into the areas where the heaviest fighting occurred to look for wounded and dead.

"We are searching in Jabaliya, Beit Lahiya, Tal al-Hawa and Zeitun," one rescue official told AFP.

Four bodies were pulled from the rubble in the northern towns of Jabaliya and Beit Lahiya, they said.

How long the ceasefire will last is uncertain as Hamas said it would not accept the presence of a single Israeli soldier in its stronghold.

Israel, which said troops would remain in Gaza for the time being, has warned it would respond to any fire.

The Jewish state launched Operation Cast Lead on Hamas on December 27 in response to consistent rocket fire from the enclave run by the Islamists for a year and a half.

The war killed at least 1,206 Palestinians, more than 400 of them children, and wounded another 5,300, according to Gaza medics.

On the Israeli side, three civilians and 10 soldiers were killed in combat and rocket strikes, according to Israeli medics.

Israel battered the territory with some 2,500 air strikes, as well as tank and artillery fire.

Gaza militants fired more than 700 rockets and mortars into Israel.