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Hamas’ week truce with Israel
Published on 19 Jan. 2009 12:38 AM IST
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Palestinian militants announced a one-week ceasefire Sunday after Israel called a unilateral halt to its massive offensive on Gaza, as medics pulled dozens of bodies from the rubble of bombed-out homes. After exchanges of gunfire and an air strike punctured what Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged was a “fragile” ceasefire, Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas and other armed groups said they would silence their guns for the next seven days to give Israeli troops a chance to withdraw from the territory. “We in the Palestinian resistance movements announce a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and demand that enemy forces withdraw in a week and open all the border crossings to permit the entry of humanitarian aid and basic goods,” Mussa Abu Marzuk, the deputy leader of Hamas’s politburo, said in Damascus. Dawud Shihab, a Gaza-based spokesman for Islamic Jihad, a smaller armed faction, said the truce would give an opportunity for Arab governments to put pressure on Israel to withdraw all its troops. “During this period, the resistance is ready to respond to all efforts by the Egyptians, Turks, Syrians and Arabs that will allow for a total withdrawal of Israeli soldiers and the total opening of border crossings,” he told AFP. Meanwhile an international summit of European and Arab leaders aimed at shoring up the truce began in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh while officials in Cairo held talks with Hamas with the same goal. European leaders called on Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territory and on militants to stop firing rockets. “This fragile ceasefire has got to be followed immediately, if it is to be sustainable, by humanitarian access... by troop withdrawals, by an end to arms trafficking,” said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, also calling for an “end to rocket attacks” by Gaza militants. Olmert announced late Saturday that he had ordered an end to offensive operations in Gaza after 22 days of combat but that troops would remain in the territory and would fire back if they came under fresh attack. After the ceasefire came into effect at 2:00 am (0000 GMT), Gaza enjoyed its first bomb-free night in more than three weeks but there were soon signs that it was unravelling. As militants fired rockets and Israel launched retaliatory air strikes, troops shot dead an eight-year-old girl in the northern town of Beit Hanun and a 20-year-old man near southern Khan Yunis, medics said. “The government’s decision allows Israel to respond and renew the fire if our enemy in the Gaza Strip continues its strikes,” Olmert said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “This morning they again proved that the ceasefire is fragile and it has to be reassessed on a minute by minute basis,” he said. “We hope that the fire ends. If it continues, the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) will respond.” Palestinian medics took advantage of the halt in Israel’s deadliest offensive on Gaza to rush to areas which had been inaccessible due to furious fighting, pulling at least 95 bodies from the rubble, including those of several children. The discoveries brought the overall death toll since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on December 27 to at least 1,300, the medics said. On the ground, as Hamas congratulated the Palestinians on “victory” from mosque loudspeakers, Gaza residents cautiously ventured out into the streets to survey the rubble that was once their homes. “Everything has been completely destroyed,” said Yahia Karin, 54, as he surveyed the damage in Zeitun, his neighbourhood in southern Gaza that was the scene of some of the most furious battles between Israeli ground troops and Hamas militants. On the diplomatic front, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Saturday his country “will continue its efforts as soon as there is a ceasefire to restore the truce and lift the blockade” imposed by Israel on crossing points into Gaza after Hamas seized power in the territory in June 2007. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas repeated his call for a complete withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Gaza and the re-opening of the enclave’s border crossings, saying Israel’s truce was “important and necessary but insufficient.” Reacting to the announcement from Damascus, government spokesman Mark Regev stressed that Israel was not a partner to any agreement with Hamas, a group which is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction. “If Hamas does not attack Israel and does not provoke Israel, we will honour the ceasefire,” he said.

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