HAMAS-ISRAEL AGREE TO SIX-MONTHS CEASEFIRE – ‘We don’t trust them but let’s see’ says Gaza Hamas leader

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Hamas and Israel on Tuesday agreed to an Egyptian-brokered deal to cease fire for six months in and around the Gaza Strip.

It was effective from 6am yesterday, which was welcomed by the Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, reports the Palestine Media Centre.

‘Both sides have pledged to halt all hostilities and all military activities against each other,’ Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in Cairo on Tuesday, after weeks of separate talks led by intelligence chief Omar Suleiman with both belligerents.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas issued a statement in support of the reported agreement, which he urged all anti-Israeli occupation factions to respect.

‘Hamas is in control of Gaza, and we need to think about the 1.5 million people of Gaza,’ the Palestinian U.N. observer, Riyad Mansour, said, adding the agreement should include a lifting of Israel’s blockade there.

Zaki said the accord, ‘is more of an understanding than an official agreement.’

‘We had problems in the course of the negotiations because one party didn’t recognise the other. In fact, they both don’t recognise each other, so we wanted to skip the issue of a formal announcement,’ he said.

‘Both sides have pledged to halt all hostilities and all military activities against each other. . . What is said by both sides is not important; what is important is the implementation.’

Israel’s special envoy, Amos Gilad, had been sent to Cairo on Tuesday afternoon to hammer out the final details.

The ‘understanding’ would be implemented in phases, with Israel easing the year-old siege on Gaza if Hamas stops attacks, according to Egyptian and Israeli officials.

A senior Egyptian official told the official MENA news agency: ‘The Palestinian and Israeli sides have accepted the first stage of a reciprocal and simultaneous period of calm, starting in the Gaza Strip.’

A ‘mutual and simultaneous calm’ will take effect tomorrow, MENA reported Tuesday.

Khalil al-Haya, a Hamas leader, speaking at a news conference in Gaza on Tuesday, said that Egypt will seek to extend the truce into the West Bank.

‘Fawzi Barhoum, another Hamas spokesman, said, ‘Hamas will adhere to the timetable which was set by Egypt but it is our right to respond to any Israeli aggression before its implementation.’

Hamas leader in Gaza Mahmud al-Zahar told a news conference in Gaza City that the truce was intended to last six months.

He said all the armed factions in Gaza are on board with the truce. Speaking to reporters, Zahar said he had doubts that Israel would implement the cease-fire. ‘We don’t trust them, but let’s see,’ he said.

Al-Zahar said the agreement would result in Israel easing a blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory in exchange for halting cross-border rocket attacks into Israel.

He said Israel would open the commercial crossings as soon as the truce came into effect. Two weeks later, he said, Egypt would host talks aimed at reopening the Rafah crossing on its border with Gaza.

‘We as Palestinian people, as Palestinian factions agreed upon a bilateral, immediate ceasefire between the Palestinian side and the Israeli side,’ Zahar said.

He confirmed at the news conference that Egypt would invite envoys of Hamas, Fatah and the European Union to discuss arrangements for reopening the Rafah border crossing two weeks after the truce goes into effect.

A swap of Palestinian detainees for the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, would not be included in the pact and would involve a separate set of negotiations, al-Zahar said.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said his group believed the ceasefire would hold and help those living in the coastal enclave: ‘We believe that what was agreed upon will last and the Palestinian people will see the fruits of their endurance.’

Khaled Mishaal, chairman of the politburo of the Islamist group, said a lasting truce would be good for 1.5 million Palestinians who have suffered from the blockade, but warned Israel that any violation of the deal would not go unanswered by Hamas.

However he warned: ‘If you go back, we go back. The resistance factions are not in a weak position, they are in a strong position… We are a people with a cause and we will not be broken by aggression or invasion,’ Mishaal told Reuters during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Mishaal said on Tuesday the truce commits the occupying regime to ending its crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip

Meanwhile, Israeli president Shimon Peres told Israel Radio: ‘Hamas is exhausted and is requesting a truce due to the blockade Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip.’

Israel’s ‘Defence’ Minister Ehud Barak struck a more cautious tone but said Israel would give it every chance.

‘It’s early to herald a ceasefire, and even if it were to happen… it is difficult to estimate how long it will last. The test will be in the implementation but it is important to give it a chance,’ Barak said in a speech north of Tel Aviv.

The Israeli army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee earlier that a cease-fire with Hamas would be ‘short and fragile.’

The London-based newspaper Al-Hayat website reported on June 17 that the ‘understanding’ which the newspaper described as an ‘agreement,’ will be implemented in three stages and includes reopening the Rafah crossing, taking it out of Israel’s hands, in addition to separating the crossings issue from the case of releasing the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The first stage will start three days after the announcement of the zero hour and the Israeli occupation forces will open the two commercial crossings (Karni) east of Gaza city and ‘Sofah’ northeast of Rafah city south of the Strip. They will allow the entry of food and necessary commodities included in the lists of commodities which the occupation authorities have been allowing to enter the Strip for months.

The second stage would start one week later and include lifting the ban on most of the necessary commodities and materials apart from a small number of materials which Israel believes are used for making weapons, explosives, and rockets, in particular metal pipes and some chemicals.

The third stage would start also one week later and a meeting would be held to discuss the mechanisms for opening the Rafah border crossing, the only outlet to the outside world for the Palestinians in the Strip. Israel closed it two years ago following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

It was agreed to operate the Rafah crossing between Gaza Strip and Egypt under a partnership between Egypt, the European monitors, the Palestinian [National] Authority, and ‘Hamas,’ Al-Hayat said.

The following are believed to be the peace terms:

• Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Israel’s armed forces will begin a period of ‘mutual and simultaneous calm,’ halting all hostilities and military activities against each other, starting at 6 a.m. yesterday, June 19.

• The truce will last 60 days and can be renewed.

• If the truce holds for three days, Israel will open two border crossings to a limited flow of commercial goods into and out of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources say the volume of goods would reach 30% of its level a year ago.

• Also, if the truce holds for three days, Israel and Hamas would start indirect negotiations through Egypt for the release of captured Israeli Cpl Gilad Shalit.

• If the truce holds for a week, there will be a further, gradual easing of restrictions on the flow of goods.

• If the truce holds for two weeks, Egypt will begin negotiations with Hamas, Israel, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and the European Union on terms for reopening the Rafah crossing to allow commercial goods and people to move between Egypt and Gaza.

• A reopening of the Rafah crossing will depend, among other things, on progress in the negotiations over the fate of Shalit.

However Israeli politicians and generals are still talking about preparing an offensive to smash Hamas in Gaza, as the only road to the kind of ‘peace’ that Israel requires.

They are saying that the ‘truce’ will protect Israel from rocket and other attacks whilst this offensive is being prepared.