Israel Confirms Cease-Fire with Hamas
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Israel and Hamas have agreed to a truce in Gaza. The cease fire's expected to begin tomorrow. It was brokered by Egypt and it offers something to each side. Israel will ease its year-long blockade of Gaza. Hamas will stop rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.
To learn more about this development we go to NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem.
And Eric, both sides have mounted deadly attacks on each other just hours before this truce is supposed to go into effect.
ERIC WESTERVELT: That's right. Yesterday was a pretty violent day in the Gaza strip. But what we know about this Egyptian-brokered truce so far, Renee, is that tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. local time this cease fire is scheduled to go into effect. That's confirmed from senior Israeli and Hamas officials today. The truce calls for a total cessation of hostile fire from Gaza by all Palestinian factions. And Israel says it has agreed to immediately halt all military operations inside Gaza - air and ground.
Then if the truce holds, Renee, for three days, Israel says it will ease sanctions on Sunday, and so more goods - especially food and fuel which have been in great shortages inside Gaza - will be allowed to enter Gaza through two main crossing points.
But a senior Israeli official said, you know, there'll be nothing like full normalization of these crossing points and a full lifting of sanctions without the release of Gilad Shalit. He's the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas and other militant factions two years ago and who's been held inside Gaza ever since.
MONTAGNE: Is there a sense that both sides have been forced, if you will, into this truce? That is, they've both show that they are sufficiently - that they can't hold out against what the other side is doing to them?
WESTERVELT: In many ways, yes. I mean, this is a difficult agreement to swallow for both sides. Hamas has had to publicly acknowledge that these sanctions and the embargo against Gaza has had a huge impact on ordinary Gazans, that they were under pressure. There are shortages of fuel for cooking, for driving, a shortage of some basic food supplies, of medicine, for some construction supplies. Everything. The U.N. has repeatedly warned that hunger, poverty and desperation have all increased inside Gaza as these crossings have remained largely closed, Renee, except for some humanitarian shipments.
So Hamas has had to acknowledge that they were feeling the squeeze. And Israel now has to acknowledge that they were dealing, at least indirectly, with a group they list as a terrorist organization and that they said they would never deal with; Israel was under pressure to do something. Communities bordering Gaza were getting hit almost every day, Renee, by homemade rockets - these Kazam rockets - as well as mortar rounds and sniper fire. At least two of the border crossings from Gaza were attacked by suicide bombers in the last year.
So Israelis in the south were fed up and angry and demanding that their government take action. So Prime Minister Olmert was under intense pressure, especially since he's unpopular and under investigation in a corruption probe; he was under pressure to deliver on something and show some positive development regarding the Gaza strip.
MONTAGNE: Now, there have been other cease fires. Just briefly, is there any indication that this one will be different?
WESTERVELT: Well, we'll see. There's deep skepticism on both sides. A senior spokesman for Israel, Mark Regev, told me we're very serious. If this - you know, if this holds it'll be a period of quiet that'll be beneficial to everybody. But we want to see actions, not words. He said - and a senior Hamas official, Fawzi Barhoum, told me today, quote, "it all depends on the occupation forces and how they act and facilitate this calm."
MONTAGNE: And then of course...
WESTERVELT: So we'll just have to see.
MONTAGNE: Yeah. And then, of course, as you mentioned the question of the Israeli soldier still being held in Gaza for the past two years.
WESTERVELT: That's right. If this cease fire is actually going to hold and get expanded to include the opening of the southern border crossing, Rafah, Israel says Gilad Shalit and talks on that will have to resume immediately.
MONTAGNE: Eric, thanks.
WESTERVELT: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem, where Israel has reached a cease fire agreement for Gaza with the Palestinian militant organization Hamas.
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