Hamas-Israel ceasefire takes hold but mistrust runs deep

Wed Nov 21, 2012 6:41pm EST
 
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By Yasmine Saleh and Nidal al-Mughrabi

CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) - A ceasefire between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers took hold on Thursday after eight days of conflict, although deep mistrust on both sides cast doubt on how long the Egyptian-sponsored deal can last.

Even after the ceasefire came into force late on Wednesday, a dozen rockets from the Gaza Strip landed in Israel, all in open areas, a police spokesman said. In Gaza, witnesses reported an explosion shortly after the truce took effect at 9 p.m (1900 GMT), but there were no casualties and the cause was unclear.

The deal prevented, at least for the moment, an Israeli ground invasion of the Palestinian enclave following bombing and rocket fire which killed five Israelis and 162 Gazans, including 37 children.

But trust was in short supply. The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said his Islamist movement would respect the truce if Israel did, but would respond to any violations. "If Israel complies, we are compliant. If it does not comply, our hands are on the trigger," he told a news conference in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had agreed to "exhaust this opportunity for an extended truce", but told his people a tougher approach might be required in the future.

Both sides quickly began offering differing interpretations of the ceasefire, brokered by Egypt's new Islamist government and backed by the United States, highlighting the many actual or potential areas of discord.

If it holds, the truce will give 1.7 million Gazans respite from days of ferocious air strikes and halt rocket salvoes from militants that unnerved a million people in southern Israel and reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time.

"Allahu akbar, (God is greatest), dear people of Gaza you won," blared mosque loudspeakers in Gaza as the truce took effect. "You have broken the arrogance of the Jews."   Continued...

 
Israeli military ambulances drive outside the northern Gaza Strip (seen in the background) November 21, 2012. REUTERS/Amir Cohen