Gaza truce comes into force (Lead)

June 19th, 2008 - 4:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv/Gaza, June 19 (DPA) A fragile truce between Israel and 12 militant movements in the Gaza Strip came into effect at 6 a.m. Thursday, ending months of violence between the sides. The first stage of the Egyptian-mediated three-phase ceasefire entails a mutual end to hostilities.

But only hours before the truce was to come into effect, Israel attacked what a military spokesman in Tel Aviv said was a group of militants in the Gaza Strip who were launching rockets at the Jewish state.

One Hamas militant was killed in the strike.

The military wing of the Hamas movement, the dominant militant faction, said it was committed to the ceasefire, but warned it would retaliate for any Israel violation.

“We are completely ready to direct a military strike that shakes the Israeli entity if the occupation (Israel) does not show a commitment to the terms of the truce,” a leaflet sent to journalists said.

The second stage of the six month-long ceasefire is to begin after progress in the talks on the prisoners exchange which would see the release of an Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas in Gaza for the past two years.

Hamas demands the release of hundreds of Palestinian militants from Israel’s prisons in return for releasing Corporal Gilad Shalit.

As part of this stage, the Egypt-Gaza border crossing of Rafah would open for one or two days a week and Israel will allow more goods into the Gaza Strip.

When a deal is reached on Shalit’s release, stage three will begin, including the daily reopening of the Rafah crossing and a complete lifting of Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza.

Israel had imposed the blockade in response to near-daily rocket and mortar attacks from the Strip at its southern towns and villages. It had further tightened the strangle-hold after Hamas seized sole control of Gaza in June last year.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zhuri called on western countries “to change their attitude” towards his movement after it committed to the truce.

Western countries imposed a boycott on Hamas after it won the 2006 Palestinian elections but refused calls to renounce violence, honour past Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and change its charter to accept Israel’s right to exist.

Palestinian militants have launched more than 10,000 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel since it unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005. Some 4,360 of them were launched since Hamas’ Gaza take-over, killing four Israelis, a military spokesman said.

More than 360 Palestinians have died in Israel’s retaliatory strikes against the rocket and mortar attacks over the past year, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).

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