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Israel agrees to a truce with Hamas

Latest update : 2008-06-18

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has approved a six-month truce with Hamas-led Palestinian militants in the Gaza strip, according to an israeli public radio. The ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, is due to begin at 6 a.m. Thursday morning.

Israel confirmed on Wednesday that it had agreed to a truce in and around Gaza but showed little enthusiasm for the Egyptian-brokered deal with Hamas, which it boycotts as a terror group.

"Israel has accepted Egypt's proposals," the prime minister's spokesman Mark Regev said, one day after Egypt announced the deal and Hamas said it would abide by the truce due to come into effect at 0300 GMT on Thursday.

"It is our sincere hope that as of Thursday the population of southern Israel will no longer be victims of the constant rocket and mortar attacks by terrorists from the Gaza Strip," Regev told AFP.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have warned repeatedly that while they hope a ceasefire can be achieved, the military stands ready to launch a major ground offensive should it fail.

Israel maintained that cautious tone on Wednesday.

An envoy of Defence Minister Ehud Barak underlined after returning from talks with the Egyptian mediators late on Tuesday that the two sides had reached "understandings with Egypt" rather than a formal accord.

Speaking on public radio, the envoy, Amos Gilad, stressed that if anyone opens fire from the Gaza Strip, "it will be a violation of the understandings."

President Shimon Peres was more upbeat, saying: "We could be surprised favourably," but adding: "We have to wait and see."

Egyptian negotiators said on Tuesday that after months of negotiations aimed at halting bloodshed in and around the impoverished Palestinian territory they had secured the agreement of both Israel and the Islamist Hamas group which has controlled Gaza since June last year.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya told reporters in Gaza City that the truce would initially last for six months.

"Hamas accepted the truce offer proposed by Egypt which stipulates a reciprocal halt to all military operations from 6:00 am (0300 GMT) Thursday," he said.

He said border crossings used to import goods into the impoverished territory would be opened hours after the truce comes into force, and Israel would lift its blockade of the Palestinian enclave within days.

The Hamas official said that the truce deal envisaged further talks to pave the way for the reopening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which bypasses Israel.

Hayya said that Egypt would also continue its efforts to secure Israeli agreement to the extension of the truce deal to the occupied West Bank, something Israel has been reluctant to agree to because it insists its military operations there are essential to preventing attacks inside the Jewish state.

Gilad, for his part, said he expected Egypt to prevent weapons from being smuggled across its border into the Gaza Strip.

He also said that negotiations had moved forward on a proposed exchange of Palestinians held by Israel for Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli army corporal held by Hamas since his capture in a deadly cross-border raid from Gaza two years ago.

Date created : 2008-06-18