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Israeli-Hamas Truce Set to Begin Thursday

By Robert Berger
17 June 2008

Palestinian and Egyptian officials say Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas have reached a cease-fire agreement that will go into effect in Gaza on Thursday. Israel would not confirm the deal, but said a negotiator was rushing to Cairo to finalize details. Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Under the emerging, Egyptian-mediated truce Palestinians would halt rocket and mortar attacks and Israel would gradually lift its crippling blockade on Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas.

But shortly before the deal was announced in Cairo, Israel carried out several air strikes on Gaza. In the deadliest attack, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a car, killing five gunmen from the Islamic Jihad group.

Israel frequently launches air and ground incursions in Gaza in response to daily Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, a member of the more moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank, urged Israel not to spoil the truce.

"The continuation of the policy of incursions and the killing fields is really undermining every effort to deliver peace," he said.

Israel was reluctant to accept the truce, fearing Hamas will use it to regroup and rearm for the next round of violence. But Israeli analyst Chuck Freilich says that for now, a cease-fire is preferable to an Israeli invasion of Gaza.

"I don't think it'll last very long term," he noted. "It still looks like sooner or later we will have to go into Gaza in a big way, but it would be nice to try all possibilities that might allow us to avert that."

In the second phase of the truce, Israel hopes to win the release of a captive soldier, held for two years by Hamas militants in Gaza.

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