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Israel-Hamas Ceasefire to Begin on Thursday

By Robert Berger
18 June 2008

A ceasefire in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip is due to begin at 6:00 a.m. local time Thursday. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

After months of fighting, Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas have decided to give an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire in Gaza a chance.

When the truce begins early Thursday, Hamas will halt rocket and mortar attacks and Israel will end military action in Gaza. Then Israel will begin gradually lifting its crippling blockade on Gaza. On Sunday, Israel will open border crossings and allow in trucks packed with food and supplies.

"Israel has decided to accept the Egyptian proposals and it is our sincere hope that from tomorrow, our civilian population in the south will no longer be the victim of these barrages of rockets and mortar shells from terrorists in the Gaza Strip, and we will have a new period of peace and quiet," Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said.

In Gaza, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said all Palestinian factions have agreed to abide by the truce.

Haniyeh said the ceasefire would help the Palestinian people who have suffered from the Israeli blockade.

In the second phase of the truce, Israel hopes to win the release of a soldier captured by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid two years ago. The sticking point is what Hamas wants in return: freedom for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including those responsible for deadly suicide bombings.

Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize the Jewish state, so Israel fears the group will use the truce to re-arm for the next round of conflict. But as Israeli Cabinet Benjamin Ben Eliezer put it.

"I would talk to the devil to bring peace and quiet," he said, and to win the release of the captive soldier.

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