Tentative Cease-Fire Begins in Gaza

The early stages of a cease-fire began to take hold Sunday, as Israeli troops pulled out of Gaza in early-morning hours. Hamas says it's committed to the truce. But in the West Bank, more rockets were fired into Israeli neighborhoods soon after papers were printed announcing the truce.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

In the Middle East today, a ceasefire tentatively began in Gaza. Israel withdrew its forces to outposts just inside its border. Palestinian forces took up positions along the border inside Gaza in an effort to stop attacks on Southern Israeli towns.

As NPR's Linda Gradstein reports, there were early violations of the ceasefire, but then the situation quieted down.

LINDA GRADSTEIN: Israeli troops pulled out of Gaza before dawn. Less than an hour after banner headlines in Israeli newspapers announced the ceasefire, a Qassam rocket scored a direct hit on an Israeli house in Sderot, crashing through the roof into the living room. The family members, who had run into the home's bomb shelter, were not hurt.

An hour later, another rocket, and an hour later one more hit the town.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for restraint and emphasized Israel wants the deal to work. Iazid Hudder(ph), the Hamas director general of the Ministry of Information in Ramallah on the West Bank, says Hamas is committed to the ceasefire.

Mr. IAZID HUDDER (Hamas Director, Ministry of Information): (Through translator) When Hamas makes an agreement, Hamas commits itself totally to this agreement. And therefore Hamas will make sure that no rockets are launched against the Zionist enemy.

GRADSTEIN: Thousands of Palestinian police were sent to the border area between Israel and Gaza, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ordered them to stop the rocket fire. It was unclear, however, if they would really use force to do that. And the Islamic jihad movement, which yesterday said it would honor the ceasefire, today said it was not part of the agreement.

(Soundbite of car horn)

GRADSTEIN: On the streets of Ramallah, there were doubts that Israel would respect the ceasefire. But University student Amani abu-Rakma(ph) said she's hopeful.

Ms. AMANI ABU-RAKMA (Student): (Through translator): A ceasefire between the Palestinians and the Israelis is a very good thing, especially that it will stop the daily martyrs that die from this conflict. It will definitely improve the situation.

GRADSTEIN: Akmed al-Amly(ph), a businessman, was also optimistic.

Mr. AKMED Al-AMLY (Businessman): (Through translator) We encourage any move that leads to a state of calm. I hope this ceasefire will bring good results to the Palestinians. I hope that at least the ceasefire will stop the wave of attacks against the Palestinian people.

GRADSTEIN: Palestinians on the streets of Ramallah said they hoped the ceasefire will move the creation of a Palestinian national unity government forward. They hope that government will convince the international community to lift the economic boycott of the Palestinian Authority which has crippled the Palestinian economy. Abbas had said that a ceasefire was one of his conditions for joining a unity government.

Beyond that, both Israeli and Palestinian officials said they hope a ceasefire could lead to a deal in which Israel would free about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier captured five months ago.

Hamas official Yaziz Hudder(ph) says the Palestinians need a break from frequent Israeli air strikes and incursions. More than 300 Palestinians, including many civilians, have been killed in Gaza in the past five months.

Mr. YAZIZ HUDDER (Hamas Official): (Through translator) After all this turmoil, the Palestinians are in need of a period of quiet. And during this period of quiet, important issues need to be discussed, internally and externally.

GRADSTEIN: Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, still smarting after the recent war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, and with his approval ratings at an all-time low, also needs a break from frequent rocket fire that killed two Israeli civilians earlier this month.

Olmert today said he hopes the ceasefire will be the first step to the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News. Ramallah.

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