June 19, 2008

Israel, Hamas Doubt Truce Will Succeed

By Matti Friedman

JERUSALEM - A truce between Israel and Hamas went into effect this morning, hours after the two sides launched attacks that highlighted the difficulties they face in holding the cease-fire together.

After a year of violence that has killed more than 400 Palestinians and seven Israelis, the leaders of both sides expressed hope the truce which went into effect at 6 a.m. local time would succeed - but made clear they have little faith in their adversaries' commitment to the deal.

"I hope it will succeed. I believe there will be quiet in (Israel's) south," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a speech to philanthropists. But he also said he instructed his military "to prepare for any operation, short or long, that might be necessary" if the truce breaks down as several previous ones have.

In another diplomatic initiative, Israel called on neighboring Lebanon to open peace negotiations - an overture that was quickly rejected by Lebanon's prime minister.

In Gaza, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said the truce would ease the lives of Gazans, but success or failure was in Israel's hands. "The calm is going to bring stability to Israel if they commit themselves to it," he said.

The truce deal between Israel and Hamas was reached after months of efforts by Egypt and could avert a large-scale Israeli military incursion. The talks were brokered by Egypt because Israel, like much of the international community, shuns Hamas for refusing to recognize Israel or renounce violence.

But on Wednesday, violence was still in evidence and a truce seemed remote. The military said at least 40 rockets and 10 mortar shells exploded in Israel by nightfall, an especially high one-day total.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for much of the rocket fire, saying it was to avenge Israeli airstrikes that killed 10 militants in the previous two days. Israel hit back with two more airstrikes, wounding two Palestinians, according to Hamas security officials.

According to the truce terms, militants will immediately halt their attacks on Israel, and Israel will cease its raids.

After three days, Israel is to ease the Gaza blockade, and a week later Israel will further ease restrictions at cargo crossings. In a final stage, the sides are supposed to talk about opening a major border crossing between Gaza and Egypt and the return of an Israeli soldier held in Gaza by Hamas militants for two years. The truce is supposed to last for six months.


In Lebanon

Protesters mob diplomat's entourage

Hezbollah's Shiite supporters attacked a top U.S. diplomat's motorcade with stones in southern Lebanon on Wednesday, protesting her first visit to the militant group's stronghold, witnesses said.

In Washington, the State Department said that no one was hurt in the attack and that one local Lebanese security guard who was hit in the leg by a stone had not required treatment.

The attack occurred Wednesday afternoon after U.S. Charge d'Affaires Michele Sison visited some social and educational projects financed by the U.S. government in the southern market town of Nabatiyeh, a Hezbollah stronghold.

- Associated Press


Originally published by Matti Friedman Associated Press .

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