Skepticism as Israel, Hamas Cease-Fire Takes Effect

A truce went into effect Thursday between Israeli forces and Hamas militants who control the Gaza Strip.

The agreement was worked out during months of indirect talks mediated by the Egyptian government. Both sides are, however, already voicing skepticism the truce will hold.

The first day of the Gaza truce meant little to Omran Kheloob. The truce took effect at 6 a.m., about the same time people began lining up with their rundown cars outside the gas station he manages in Gaza City.

"We cannot see anything new, nothing," he says, speaking through a translator. "The situation is the same. Nothing's changed."

But ordinary Gazans hope to see changes soon. If the truce holds, they're eager to see an easing of sanctions and an influx of basic goods that have grown scare and expensive: cooking fuel, some food items, gas and more. Huge swaths of this coastal territory go eight to 10 hours a day without power. Everything from fresh milk to bottled water is in short supply.

Israelis are also deeply skeptical Hamas will keep its word and control militants and the other armed factions that have rained homemade rockets and mortar rounds down on nearby Israeli towns and farms for much of the last year.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the calm is "fragile and likely to be short-lived." He said the Israeli military is preparing for a wider operation should the truce collapse. Hamas' armed wing, the Kassam Brigades, issued a threat Thursday saying it is abiding by the truce but ready to attack and "shake the Zionist entity if it does not abide by the truce."

Abu Yunnis, a fishmonger in Gaza's beach refugee camp, says all that is bluster.

"The people are very tired and exhausted," he says in Arabic. "Our leaders don't want to see us this way."

Both Israel and Hamas had strong reasons to embrace the Egypt-brokered truce: Israel's military attacks were unable to stop the near daily rocket fire from Gaza. In agreeing to the truce, Hamas, for its part, acknowledges the enormous strain sanctions have placed on the group and on the 1.5 million people who live in Gaza.

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, acknowledged those realities, calling the truce a pragmatic move by both sides.

"It's not an optimistic or pessimistic," he says. "You're speaking about a practical agenda: Israelis in urgent need for cease-fire and Palestinians also in urgent need for this cease-fire."

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