GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israel is examining a Hamas truce proposal delivered by Egypt, defense officials said yesterday after at least six Palestinians were killed in a day of Israeli air and ground strikes aimed at stopping rocket salvos from Gaza.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the Hamas proposal was limited to stopping the rocket fire in exchange for a halt to Israeli military operations in Gaza.
They said Hamas gave assurances it could impose the truce on the groups that are firing the rockets - Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees.
The Egyptian government had no immediate comment.
Despite the tentative contacts, there were more Palestinian rocket barrages yesterday. One rocket fired from Gaza exploded next to an Israeli school, terrifying children. Late yesterday, Hamas said it fired three rockets at Israel, its first such claim in weeks, putting the truce talk in doubt.
Hamas floated the idea of a truce this week when its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, called an Israeli TV reporter. Israel rejected the advance, saying there was no need for a truce because if the rocket fire stopped, Israel would have no reason to attack.
Israel refuses to deal directly with Hamas because the extremist Islamic movement rejects Israel's existence and routinely calls for its destruction. Previous truces have been negotiated through Egyptian mediation, but none has held for long.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon said the overture was proof that Israel's strategy of blockading Gaza and battling attackers there was working.
"All of these things are a kind of smoke screen that just shows that Israel's recent policy toward Palestinian terror is bearing fruit," Ramon told Army Radio.
In amateur video of the rocket attack yesterday on the battered Israeli town of Sderot, taken from inside the school, the sound of the explosion is clearly heard. Children scream and cry as a teacher tries to round them up and guide them to a safe location.
No one was hurt, but Israeli officials said about a dozen children suffered panic attacks, and one was taken to a hospital for shock.
Pictures such as those from Sderot, a favorite target of rocket squads just half a mile from the Gaza-Israel border fence, have increased pressure on Israel's government to take action to stop the rocket attacks.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said repeatedly that a large-scale invasion of Gaza is nearing, but experts and officials acknowledge that such invasions have not stopped the rockets in the past. Instead, the military is using pinpoint strikes to try to deter the attackers.
Israel said its forces killed seven Palestinian gunmen in four clashes yesterday. Palestinians confirmed six dead and 20 wounded.