A ceasefire in Gaza, where hundreds of militiants and civilians have been killed by Israeli troops and missiles in the past eight months, was first proposed weeks ago by the democratically elected Hamas government, but rejected by Israel, who insisted Palestinian militants had to reject violence, lay down their arms and recognise Israel.
But seemingly out of the blue, a ceasefire agreement was delivered yesterday by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who telephoned Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and announced an agreement had been reached by the majority of the Palestinian factions to begin a ceasefire in Gaza.
Israel claims 11 rockets have been fired into Israel, causing minor structural damage to one apartment building, but no casualties, since the ceasefire was declared, and that all Israeli Defence Force troops have withdrawn from Gaza.
The ceasefire follows a ramping up of criticism of Israel's policy of targeted assassinations in Gaza by the United States - in particular from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - the United Nations, Italy, Spain, Russia, China, all Arab states and the United Kingdom, which have killed more than 100 Palestinians in the past month alone, as well as a recent high profile slaughter of more than a dozen women and children after a "technical error" by the Israeli Defence Force. Israel apologised, but a United Nations spokesman said it was not "good enough".
The ceasefire deal appears to be simple : Israel withdraws its forces from Gaza and Palestinian militants halt the firing of rockets from Gaza territory into Israel.
Israel did not demand official state recognition from the Hamas-led Palestinian government, nor the laying down of all arms by Palestinian militants. Nor were demands made by Israel for the retun of a kidnapped IDF soldier, still believed to be held captive in Gaza.
From the UK Observer :
In Gaza, the Israeli army continued its offensive. Israeli tank fire killed one militant, and other Israeli fire wounded six Palestinians, including a 12-year-old boy shot in the head while standing outside his house.
Palestinian militants have maintained a steady fire of rockets at Israeli areas close to Gaza.
Although the crude rockets are very inaccurate, in recent weeks they have managed to hit town centres more frequently than before.
In an indication of a new atmosphere, Khaled Mashal, an exiled leader of the militant Hamas organisation, said in Cairo that his organisation was willing to give Israel the opportunity to negotiate on the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza for six months.
From Haaretz.com :
Government sources in Jerusalem said the Palestinians had agreed to stop Qassam fire, suicide bombings and the digging of tunnels.
A senior security source said on Saturday that military pressure and increased military actions in recent weeks had led the Palestinian factions and terror organizations to agree to a cease-fire.
A senior military source said that in the past 96 hours, 25 Palestinian terrorists had been killed, and military pressure had shown them they were losing people and assets and making only small gains, even though they were hitting Israelis.
Government sources in Jerusalem said if the cease-fire held, it would bring forward a meeting between Olmert and Abbas.
The Americans recieved a report on the details of the agreement and the Olmert-Abbas conversation, but have not announced whether they intend to initiate a summit.
U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are scheduled to visit Jordan on Wednesday, and U.S. envoy Elliot Abrams will be in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
A spokesman for a group affiliated with the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), Abu Abir, told Haaretz that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met Saturday night with representatives of a number of armed groups involved in Qassam firing, including the PRC. The previous day Haniyeh met with all major factions.
A spokesman for the PA Interior Ministry, Khaled Abu Hilal, told Haaretz that this was the first decision of its kind involving all factions. He said that if the cease-fire succeeded in the Gaza Strip, the factions would be called to decide on extending it to the West Bank. "At the moment the West Bank is not included in the cease-fire. We are waiting for confidence-building measures from Israel," he said.
From ABC News :
Palestinian Security Forces Deploy In Gaza To Enforce Ceasefire
The effective restoration of a truce agreed last year could pave the way for a long-awaited summit between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on ways to restart peacemaking.
Hamas said its armed wing fired three rockets at Israel just before the cease-fire began. The missiles damaged a building but caused no injuries, the Israeli army said.
Hamas, the Islamist group whose rise to power in the Palestinian territories drew a Western aid boycott that has deepened economic hardship, was instrumental in persuading militant groups to agree to hold their fire.
"President Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh agreed with all factions and resistance groups on calm, including the stopping of rocket fire, starting from 6am (local time) on Sunday," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.Israel, which completed a pullout of troops and settlers from Gaza in September 2005, threatened last week to step up the military offensive it began in the territory in June after militants on a cross-border raid abducted an Israeli soldier.
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