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Gaza tunnel attack foiled ahead of truce, Israel says

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Ariel Schalit / AP

Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike in the Gaza Strip as seen from the Israel-Gaza border Wednesday, July 16, 2014.

JERUSALEM — Israel thwarted an attack by more than a dozen militants who sneaked in from Gaza through a tunnel on Thursday, the military said, just hours before Israel and Hamas were to observe a five-hour humanitarian pause in fighting.

The incident came as Israel and Hamas continued to exchange fire for a 10th day, but Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said it would not endanger the United Nations-brokered break in fighting.

Lerner said 13 militants were identified at the tunnel's opening some 820 feet inside Israel, near a kibbutz, and were struck by Israeli aircraft. He said the military believed at least one militant was killed in the strike and that the remaining fighters appeared to have returned to Gaza through the tunnel.

Lerner said the attack "could have had devastating consequences" and said the militants were armed with "extensive weapons," including rocket-propelled grenades.

Neither Hamas nor other Palestinian militant groups immediately claimed the attack.

In the lead-up to the start of the temporary cease-fire, Israeli aircraft struck three dozen targets in Gaza early Thursday, including homes of two Hamas leaders. More than a dozen rockets were launched toward Israel.

The cross-border fighting has so far killed more than 220 Palestinians and an Israeli, according to officials.

Egypt has meanwhile resumed efforts to broker a longer-term truce after its initial plan was rejected by Hamas earlier in the week. Hamas, which seized Gaza seven years ago, wants international guarantees that the territory's blockade by Israel and Egypt will be eased significantly and that Israel will release Palestinian prisoners.

In fighting early Thursday, Israeli aircraft struck 37 targets, including the homes of senior Hamas leaders Fathi Hamad and Khalil al-Haya, the military said. It said Gaza militants fired about 14 rockets at Israel.

The Gaza Interior Ministry said 30 houses were struck in the Israeli raids. Four people were killed and a 75-year-old woman died of wounds suffered the day before, the ministry said.

The U.N.-brokered humanitarian cease-fire began at midnight Wednesday Pacific time and was to last for five hours. Both sides announced they would respect the truce.

Laub reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Associated Press writer Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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