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Hamas declares a week’s ceasefire

Announcement came 12 hours after unilateral Israeli ceasefire. But Hamas rocketfire continued

Written by New York Times | Jerusalem | Published: January 19, 2009 12:33:57 am

Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza announced an immediate,week-long ceasefire in the conflict with Israel on Sunday,about 12 hours after an Israeli unilateral ceasefire went into effect.

The Palestinian groups said that they would give Israeli troops a week to leave Gaza. Hamas leaders outside Gaza had previously said the group would continue fighting so long as Israeli troops remained on the ground.

The ceasefire announcement,coming after 22 days of war that killed more than 1,200 Palestinians and 13 Israelis,was confirmed by the Palestinian groups’ exiled leaders meeting in Damascus. It came after Egypt held talks with Hamas representatives,and as European and Arab leaders gathered in Egypt for a summit meeting designed to turn the fragile truce into a more durable arrangement.

Hamas demands the opening of the crossings on Gaza’s borders,while Israel is seeking an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza across the Egyptian border,and an halt to Hamas rocket fire.

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired about 13 rockets at southern Israel on Sunday morning hours after the unilateral cease-fire declared by Israel went into effect. One struck a house in the port city of Ashdod,lightly wounding one Israeli. The Israeli military said it carried out two airstrikes against rocket-launching squads. There were conflicting news reports of casualties in Gaza,with either one man or one girl said to have been killed.

Early Sunday,a Hamas gunman clashed with Israeli troops in Gaza,but otherwise the situation seemed relatively calm.

The breaches were predictable: Israeli officials had said that a flurry of rocket launches,to prove that Hamas is neither cowed nor defeated,was likely for at least a short time. And while Israel has called off its major offensive against Hamas,political leaders and the military have emphasized that Israel will respond to any attacks. Israel declared late on Saturday that its unilateral cease-fire would begin at 2 am on Sunday,but said its troops would stay in place for now. Some tanks and infantry could be seen leaving Gaza on Sunday morning,but more remained inside.

In announcing that Israeli forces would halt their advance,Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted that “we have reached all the goals of the war,and beyond.” He said that Hamas had “suffered a major blow.”

Heavy Israeli bombardment continued in hours before the cease-fire. And in an attack early Saturday that brought scathing criticism from the UN,Israeli tank fire killed two young brothers taking shelter at a United Nations school in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.

As President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France were hosting the summit meeting in Egypt on Sunday,the immediate topics were to be the interdiction of smuggling and the reconstruction of Gaza after the Israeli attack,which has left large areas of the crowded territory in ruins.

The length of Israel’s occupation of Gaza has now been put in the hands of Hamas. The Israeli government says it will not sign any deal with the group.

Israel and Egypt will now be under pressure to reopen its crossings into Gaza for goods,given the size of the reconstruction required. Concerned about limiting smuggling into Gaza,the US and Israel signed a “memorandum of understanding” on Friday that calls for expanded cooperation to prevent Hamas from rearming through Egypt. The agreement,which is vague,promises American technical assistance and international monitors to crack down on the smuggling.

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