Israel Pulls Out from Gaza in Cease-Fire Deal

Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza early Sunday morning as part of a new cease-fire agreement, ending a military offensive begun in June. The cease-fire deal was reached late Saturday with Palestinian leaders and the Islamist factions Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Andrea Seabrook. There is a cease-fire today between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, at least a tentative one. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has struggled over the past weeks to get all the Palestinian factions to agree to a cease-fire, including Hamas.

Yesterday, he phoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to tell him the factions agreed. Olmert, in return, withdrew Israeli forces from Gaza and stopped the military offensive, which began in June. But there's already been a breach. About an hour after the start of the cease-fire, Islamic Jihad and Hamas fired rockets into southern Israel. Joining me on the line from Ramallah in the West Bank in NPR's Linda Gradstein. Linda, does this mean the agreement's already in trouble?

LINDA GRADSTEIN: Well, it might be in trouble, but it's not over yet. There seems to be a seriousness on both sides to try to make this cease-fire work. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has ordered his security chiefs to enforce the cease-fire and has ordered patrols of security forces along the Gaza border with Israel to stop the rocket fire.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel must show restrain and patience in upholding the cease-fire with the Palestinian Authority, and what Hamas officials are saying - I spoke to the director general of the information ministry here in Ramallah - and he says that it was just a mistake, and there was some lack of clarification about exactly when the cease-fire took effect. But he said that Hamas is completely committed to it. So there does seem to be a seriousness about it.

SEABROOK: Does that mean Abbas is ready to use force against Hamas and Islamic Jihad if necessary?

GRADSTEIN: Well, that's exactly the question. And in the past, he has not been willing to, and you know, you have to remember that, you know, in Gaza there - everybody knows each other and there are a lot of family, you know, ties, and it's a very difficult situation. And will he really be willing to use force? That's obviously going to be the critical test. Now, Hamas says it is part of the cease-fire. However, Islamic Jihad, which has been behind a lot of the rocket fire over the past month, is rejecting the cease-fire. So that's going to be the question, of how far will Islamic Jihad go to confront the ruling Hamas movement, and how far will Hamas go to try to stop the rocket fire.

SEABROOK: Linda, if this cease-fire holds, what does it mean in the short term for the Palestinians?

GRADSTEIN: Well, first of all, the cease-fire only applies to Gaza. It doesn't apply to the West Bank. And some Palestinians here in Ramallah have said they're concerned that Israel will, you know, continue to send troops into places in Ramallah and that that could affect the cease-fire in Gaza.

However, Palestinians also say that it's a prelude to a national unity government, which they've been trying to put together for weeks. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said that a cease-fire must be a condition of this government, which the Palestinians hope would lead to lifting the international boycott. They also hope that it would lead to the freedom of about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israel soldier who was captured five months ago on the border between Gaza and Israel.

SEABROOK: NPR's Linda Gradstein in Ramallah. Thanks, Linda.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you, Andrea.

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