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Egypt-brokered Truce Brings Calm to Gaza

Published: 21/12/2012 01:18:27 AM GMT
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GAZA CITY - A ceasefire took hold in Gaza on Thursday, November 22, between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel, amid deep mistrust on both sides on whether the Egyptian-sponsored deal would last. Israel learnt a less (more)

GAZA CITY - A ceasefire took hold in Gaza on Thursday, November 22, between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel, amid deep mistrust on both sides on whether the Egyptian-sponsored deal would last.

"Israel learnt a lesson it will never forget," 51-year-old Khalil al-Rass from Beach refugee camp in the city of Gaza told Reuters.

Quiet reigned on both sides of the frontier between Gaza and Israel overnight after Egypt managed to reach a ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israel.

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Municipal workers in Gaza began cleaning streets and removing the rubble of buildings bombed in Israel's air strikes. Stores opened and people flocked to markets to buy food.

In rocket-hit towns in southern Israel, schools remained closed as a precaution. Nerves were jangled when warning sirens sounded, in what the military quickly said was a false alarm.

Under the deal, Israel would hold its attacks on Gaza, while the Palestinians would stop rocket firing into Israel and cross-border attacks.

Israel would also desist from incursions and targeted killings of Palestinian activists.

The deal also provides for easing Israeli restrictions on Gaza's residents, who live in what British Prime Minister David Cameron has called an "open prison".

The text said procedures for implementing this would be "dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire".

At least 162 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, were killed, including 37 children and 11 women in eight days of Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Nearly 1,400 rockets were fired into Israel, killing four civilians and a soldier, the Israeli military said.

Israel's defense minister said Israel dropped 1,000 times as much explosive on the Gaza Strip as had landed in Israel.

Egypt, an important US ally now under Islamist leadership, took center stage in diplomacy to halt the bloodshed.

Cairo has walked a fine line between sympathies for Hamas and preserving its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and its ties with Washington, its main aid donor.

Announcing the agreement in Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said mediation had "resulted in understandings to cease fire, restore calm and halt the bloodshed".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, standing beside Amr, thanked Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi for peace efforts that showed "responsibility, leadership" in the region.


Despite the ceasefire, discord remained between both sides on whether the deal would last.

"If Israel complies, we are compliant. If it does not comply, our hands are on the trigger," Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal told a news conference in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had agreed to "exhaust this opportunity for an extended truce", but added that a tougher approach might be required in the future.

Reflecting their deep mistrust, both the Palestinians and Israel began offering differing interpretations of the ceasefire.

"The document stipulates the opening of the crossings, all the crossings, and not just Rafah," Meshaal said.

Israel, trying to stop Hamas arming itself, controls all entry to Gaza apart from one crossing with Egypt.

But Israeli sources said Israel would not lift a blockade of the enclave it enforced after Hamas won a Palestinian election in 2006.

Palestinians in Gaza have long complained that Israeli blockade has deteriorated their livelihood.

Hamas declared November 22 a national holiday marking "the victory of the resistance".

"Resistance has achieved and has imposed a new formula - if you hit Gaza, we will hit Tel Aviv and beyond Tel Aviv,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Some Israelis staged protests against the deal, notably in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi, where three civilians were killed by a rocket from Gaza last week.

Interviewed on Israel's Army Radio, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak dismissed a ceasefire text published by Hamas as "a piece of paper which I don't remember anyone going around with - there's no signature on it".

He appeared to confirm, however, a key Hamas claim that the Israelis would no longer enforce a no-go zone on the Gaza side of the frontier.

"If there are no attacks along the border ... then I tell you that there is no problem with them working the farmland on the perimeter up to the fence," Barak said.But should the Palestinians exploit such measures to breach the truce, Israel would be "free to act," he said.

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