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Israel's parliament votes to approves Sderot's special status

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TEL AVIV, December 19 (RIA Novosti) - Israel's parliament approved Wednesday the government's decision to keep the "special" status of Sderot and communities close to the Gaza Strip due to frequent Palestinian rocket attacks.

The voting at the parliament's Commission for International Affairs and Defense was the last formal procedure before the launch of the initiative in Sderot and smaller towns in southern Israel bordering the Gaza Strip.

The special status order, which allows Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to manage the towns, expired about a month ago and the renewed order will be valid until the end of March 2008.

According to the Israeli military, since 2001 Palestinian militants have fired over 4,500 rockets and mortar shells at Sderot alone, including 20 mortar shells and about 30 rockets in the past week.

Last Thursday, a Qassam rocket launched by Palestinian militants wounded a female resident in Sderot. In response, the Israeli army carried out an airstrike in northern Gaza, killing three Islamic Jihad militants.

A broader military operation is not on the agenda at present, defense sources said last week.

After a recent Mideast peace conference in the U.S. city of Annapolis, Tel Aviv insisted that Palestinian authorities put a stop to attacks by militants against Israel as a requirement for the brokering of a peace deal.

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