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Hamas fires rockets at Jerusalem even as truce deal makes progress

November 20, 2012|By Edmund Sanders

GAZA CITY -- As Hamas continued its attacks against Israel on Tuesday with two rockets targeted at Jerusalem, Israeli and Egyptian officials signaled that a cease-fire agreement may be close.

Hamas officials claimed responsibility for the strikes, saying they used one of their new homemade M-75 rockets. As occurred last week, the rockets landed in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank, south of Jerusalem. No damage or injuries were reported.

Attacks by Palestinian militants against Jerusalem previously were rare because the city is home to many Arab residents and some of the world’s most sacred religious and historical sites, including those of Islam.

TIMELINE: Israel-Gaza conflict

Israel quickly retaliated, saying it struck 11 rocket-launching squads around the Gaza Strip, including two militants responsible for the attack on Jerusalem.

Despite the violence, Israeli officials said a deal to end the campaign could be announced later Tuesday evening, according to Israeli Radio. The proposed agreement would include a monitoring committee made up of israeli, Egyptian and American security experts.

President Obama dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the region to aid in the process. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said Clinton's main task was the "de-escalation of violence" and that her trip was deemed by the president to be the best way to push toward that goal.

PHOTOS: Israel-Gaza violence

As of Tuesday afternoon local time, 119 people had been killed and nearly 1,000 wounded in the weeklong campaign, officials said.

At Shifa Hospital, the rising number of casualties was taking a toll. The facility was facing shortages on hundreds of medicines and seven of its 150 ambulances have been destroyed, according to hospital spokesman Ashraf Qedra.

"We don't have enough ambulances to keep up with demand anymore," he said.

After seven days of fighting, many Gaza residents said they are ready for life to return to normal.

Schools, government offices and most companies in the coastal strip remained closed. Many grocery stores, a few barbershops and cellphone providers kept their doors open. But most people preferred to stay close to home, particularly after Israel in recent days expanded its airstrikes to targets in residential and commercial areas.

At Fras, a usually frenetic outdoor farmer's market smelling of donkey manure and buzzing with flies, crowds were noticeably smaller Tuesday and the wagons of pears, apples, garlic and cucumbers were having trouble selling out.

"Customers are too afraid to come,’" said Ibrahim Rajab, 41, standing over a cart brimming with plump red tomatoes.

It’s just as well, he said. Farms that supply his small business have been damaged by the Israeli strikes, raising worries about future supplies of agricultural products.

By 1 p.m., Fras was closing down and Rajab was desperate to sell off his supply. "From this point I’ll take anything," he shrugged. "It's better than throwing it away."

Smuggling tunnels to Egypt have been virtually cut off due to Israeli bombing. So concerns about food shortages are growing, particularly on items such as milk, cheese and canned goods, vendors said. Cigarettes cost 25% more than last week, but most prices are stable so far.

Shopkeepers say that's largely because customers -- after stockpiling their homes at the start of the conflict -- are not venturing out to shop.

"At first it was good for business because everyone stocked up, but now I only have enough inventory to last another four days," said grocery market owner Loai Sek, 25. He said his suppliers have refused to make a delivery since Thursday.

With hopes that a cease-fire might be reached, there’s no hoarding or lines for food. Yet the potential for shortages remains in the back of people's minds. When word spread Monday that a particular gas station had just been resupplied with diesel fuel, it was quickly mobbed with cars.

Times staff writer Kathleen Hennessey in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.

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