Israel, militants continue attacks for second day

IBRAHIM BARZAK - Associated Press
Medics treat a wounded Palestinian militant at Al Najar hospital following an Israeli air strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011. Israeli aircraft struck at Palestinian militants in Gaza on Saturday who responded with a volley of rockets which rained on southern Israeli towns, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.  (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)
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Medics treat a wounded Palestinian militant at Al Najar hospital following an Israeli air strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011. Israeli aircraft struck at Palestinian militants in Gaza on Saturday who responded with a volley of rockets which rained on southern Israeli towns, Israeli and Palestinian officials said. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian militants launched retaliatory attacks on each other early Sunday, but the militant group spearheading the attacks said it was prepared to cease fire if Israel would.

Nine militants and an Israeli civilian were killed on Saturday in a round of violence set off by a rocket attack earlier in the week. The exchange of fire continued overnight, with Palestinians firing 10 rockets fired into Israel in the early hours of the morning, and Israeli aircraft targeting six militant sites in Gaza, the military said.

No casualties were reported by either side.

Later Sunday, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad group that led the rocket attacks said the militants were ready to stop firing rockets if Israel halted its air attacks.

"When all jet fighters leave the skies of Gaza we will stop firing rockets," said Dawud Shehab of Islamic Jihad.

The truce efforts were being mediated by Egypt, which has long been a middleman between the two sides, who do not speak directly to each other.

An Egyptian official told The Associated Press that Egypt was sounding out the Israelis on their readiness to halt their military operations in Gaza. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the confidential contacts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Israel would step up its retaliatory attacks if necessary, but in the meantime, defense officials said, Israel is holding back in an effort to keep the violence from escalating further.

The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss military operations.

In the meantime, both sides were bracing for further attacks.

As a precautionary measure, Israeli officials closed schools in southern communities within 25 miles (40 kilometers) of Gaza, as well as Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba and several colleges, which were to have begun their academic year on Sunday, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Police brought in reinforcements from other areas of the country.

More than 1 million Israelis live within the range of rockets possessed by Gaza militants.

In Gaza, militants who had been emboldened to remove their masks and emerge from their hideouts following a high-profile prisoner swap with Israel earlier in the month disappeared from the streets again. And the territory's ruling Hamas movement scaled back its police deployment, apparently afraid that police positions would be targeted by Israeli aircraft.

Hamas militants are not believed to be involved in the attacks, which were claimed by smaller factions. But Israel holds Hamas ultimately responsible for all violence against it emanating from the territory.

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Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.