Hamas accepts 18-month Gaza truce

CAIRO: Hamas has accepted an 18-month truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian media reported on Friday.

“We agreed to the truce with the Israeli side for one year and a half,” Hamas politburo deputy chief Moussa Abu-Marzouk said in a statement, adding that Gaza’s six border crossings should be re-opened and the Jewish country must “stop military actions and aggressions in all forms”.

Marzouk also said Egypt will announce the result of the truce talks “within two days”, after contacting Israel and other Palestinian factions.

The breakthrough came Thursday after intensive talks between a Hamas delegation led by Marzouk and Egyptian intelligence chief and pointman for the truce talks, Omar Suleiman.

Egypt has been endeavoring to secure a lasting truce to replace the fragile ceasefire, declared Jan 18 separately by both Israel and Hamas movement, ending Israel’s 22-day massive assault in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Over 1,300 Palestinians were killed and 5,500 others wounded during the war, while 14 Israelis have died since the launch of the deadly offensive in Gaza Dec 27.

source : jang.com.pk


Israel to allow journalists into Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israel will allow journalists free access to the war-battered Gaza Strip beginning on Friday, according to a statement from the defence ministry released on the fifth day of a ceasefire.

“From 23rd January, 2009, Erez crossing will resume to facilitate normal passage of journalists from Israel to the Gaza Strip,” said the statement, referring to a border crossing in the north of the Palestinian territory.

The crossing will be open all days except Saturday, it said.

Israel had barred journalists from Gaza during its 22-day war on the Hamas rulers of the enclave.

source : jang.com.pk

UN chief arrives in Gaza

EREZ BORDER CROSSING: UN chief Ban Ki-moon entered the war-battered Gaza Strip on Tuesday, AFP reporters at the scene said.

Ban’s convoy crossed the Erez border crossing into the Palestinian territory at around 1030 GMT, they said.

It was the first visit by an international leader to the coastal strip following Israel’s deadly 22-day offensive on the territory’s Hamas rulers and the first since the Islamists seized power in Gaza in June 2007.

source : jang.com.pk

Gaza truce takes hold; Israeli pullout begins

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Hamas offered Israel an immediate weeklong truce Sunday, hours after Israel silenced its guns and grounded its aircraft, but the Islamic militant group conditioned long-term quiet on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territory.

Israeli tanks rolled out of Gaza Sunday, and infantry soldiers walked across the border to Israel, their guns and packs slung over their shoulders.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would leave Gaza quickly if the cease-fire holds.

“We didn’t set out to conquer Gaza, we didn’t set out to control Gaza, we don’t want to remain in Gaza and we intend on leaving Gaza as fast as possible,” Olmert said at a dinner with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Spain.

He also expressed sorrow over the deaths of civilians in Gaza, calling them “hostages of the Hamas murders” and vowed to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the territory.

Militant rockets peppered southern Israel ahead of the Palestinian truce offer, threatening to re-ignite three weeks of violence that killed more than 1,200 Palestinians — more than half of them civilians, Gaza officials said — and turned the streets of Hamas-ruled Gaza into battlegrounds.

In Gaza, Palestinians loaded vans and donkey carts with mattresses and ventured out to see what was left of their homes after Israel’s punishing air and ground assault. Bulldozers shoved aside rubble in Gaza City to clear a path for cars. Medical workers sifting through mounds of concrete said they recovered 100 bodies amid the debris.

Israel mounted the offensive three weeks ago to halt years of rocket attacks, but despite the latest barrage, government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel’s cease-fire offer stood. Thirteen Israelis died during the offensive, including four killed by rocket fire.

At least a dozen tanks and armored personnel carriers rumbled back into Israel, with relieved crews waving “victory” signs with their fingers. Hundreds of soldiers, laden with equipment, walked through the rain. Some smiled, others looked weary, their faces smeared with war paint. Israeli flags poked out of their packs and were attached to the tops of radio antennas.

The Israeli army refused to say how many troops had withdrawn.

The Palestinian cease-fire was announced by military leaders in Gaza and in Damascus, Syria, the base of Gaza’s exiled Hamas leaders. They did not set a time, but it appeared to be effective immediately.

In Damascus, Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas’ deputy leader, told Syrian TV that the cease-fire would last a week to give Israel time to withdraw and open all Gaza border crossings to let humanitarian aid into the embattled seaside territory.

“We the Palestinian resistance factions declare a cease-fire from our side in Gaza and we confirm our stance that the enemy’s troops must withdraw from Gaza within a week,” Abu Marzouk said.

Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist, violently seized control of Gaza in June 2007, provoking a harsh Israeli blockade that has deepened the destitution in the territory and confined 1.4 million Palestinians to the tiny coastal strip. Egypt has also kept its border with Gaza largely sealed.

Militants did not back down from their demand that Israel ultimately open blockaded crossings, which serve as economic lifelines for Gaza.

The Hamas offer raised hopes that the cease-fire would stick more than a few hours. Militants had fired 17 rockets into Israel on Sunday, slightly injuring three people, police said, even as foreign leaders tried cement an end to the war in Egypt. Israel briefly retaliated against the rocket assaults with air and artillery strikes.

In Gaza City, the Shahadeh family was loading mattresses into the trunk of a car in Gaza City, preparing to return home to the hard-hit northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.

“I’ve been told that the devils have left,” said Riyadh Shahadeh, referring to the Israelis. “I’m going back to see how I’m going to start again. I don’t know what happened to my house. … I am going back there with a heart full of fear because I am not sure if the area is secure or not, but I have no other option.”

In southern Israel, residents who have endured rocket attacks for eight years accused the government of stopping the offensive too soon. Israel declared the cease-fire before reaching a long-term solution to the problem of arms smuggling into Gaza, one of the war’s declared aims.

Schools in southern Israel had remained closed in anticipation of the rocket fire that was swift to come. Shortly before the rocket fire resumed, the head of a parents association in the town of Sderot faulted the government for not reaching an agreement directly with Hamas, which Israel shuns.

“It’s an offensive that ended without achieving its aims,” Batya Katar said. “All the weapons went through Egypt. What’s happened there?”

“The weapons will continue to come in through the tunnels and by sea,” she said.

Before Hamas made its cease-fire offer, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned militants not to attack: “This cease-fire is fragile and we must examine it minute by minute, hour by hour.”

The Israeli operation outraged the Muslim world, sparking dozens of demonstrations. On Sunday, Qatar announced that it had closed Israel’s trade office in the small Gulf Arab state and ordered its staff to leave within seven days.

Qatar is the only Gulf Arab state that has ties with Israel.

Leaders of Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Italy, Turkey and the Czech Republic — which holds the rotating European Union presidency — headed for Egypt to lend international backing to the cease-fire. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon were also expected to attend.

Ban welcomed the Israeli move and called on Hamas to stop its rocket fire. “Urgent humanitarian access for the people of Gaza is the immediate priority,” he said.

Israel said it was not sending a representative to the meeting. But Sunday evening, leaders from Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy and France and the European Union were coming to Jerusalem for a working dinner with Olmert.

Hamas, shunned internationally as a terrorist organization, was not invited to the summit in Egypt. But the group has been mediating with Egypt, and any arrangement to open Gaza’s blockaded borders for trade would likely need Hamas’ acquiescence.

Abbas, too, echoed Hamas’ call for a total Israeli withdrawal and the lifting of bruising Israeli sanctions.

Israel’s cease-fire “is an important and necessary event but it’s insufficient,” said Abbas, Hamas’ bitter rival and the top leader in the West Bank, the larger of the two Palestinian territories. “There should be a comprehensive Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a lifting of the siege and a reopening of crossings” to aid, he said, speaking from Egypt.

Under the truce plan, Hamas would not rearm, as militants did during a 6-month truce that preceded the war. In a step toward achieving those guarantees, Israel on Friday won a U.S. commitment to help crack down on weapons smuggling into Egypt and from there, to Gaza.

But Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Saturday that his country would not be bound by the agreement. Egypt’s cooperation is essential if the smuggling is to be stopped.


Ibrahim Barzak reported from Gaza and Amy Teibel reported from Jerusalem. Alfred de Montesquiou contributed to this report from Rafah, Gaza Strip.

source : news.yahoo.com

Israel unilaterally halts fire, rockets persist

JERUSALEM – Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire in the Gaza Strip on Sunday meant to end three devastating weeks of war against Hamas militants, but just hours later militants fired a volley of rockets into southern Israel, officials said, threatening to reignite the violence.

No one was injured in the assault in which five rockets were fired and four landed. But shortly afterward, security sources in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun reported an airstrike that wounded a woman and her child. The Israeli military had no comment.

In another incident after the truce took hold, militants fired small arms at an infantry patrol, which directed artillery and aircraft to strike back, the military said.

“Israel will only act in response to attacks by Hamas, either rockets into Israel or firing upon our forces,” government spokesman Mark Regev said. “If Hamas does deliberately torpedo this cease-fire, they are exposing themselves before the entire international community as a group of cynical extremists that have absolutely no interest in the well-being of the people of Gaza.”

Regev would not say what level of violence would provoke Israel to call off the truce.

The cease-fire went into effect at 2 a.m. Sunday local time after three weeks of fighting that killed some 1,200 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. At least 13 Israelis also died, according to the government.

Israel stopped its offensive before reaching a long-term solution to the problem of arms smuggling into Gaza, one of the war’s declared aims. And Israel’s insistence on keeping soldiers in Gaza raised the prospect of a stalemate with the territory’s Hamas rulers, who have said they would not respect any truce until Israel pulls out.

The military warned in a statement early Sunday that Israeli forces would retaliate for attacks against soldiers or civilians and that “any such attack will be met with a harsh response.”

The cease-fire went into effect just days ahead of President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday. Outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration welcomed Israel’s decision and a summit set for later Sunday in Egypt is meant to give international backing to the truce.

Leaders of Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Italy, Turkey and the Czech Republic — which holds the rotating European Union presidency — are expected to attend along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon.

Ban welcomed the Israeli move and called on Hamas to stop its rocket fire. “Urgent humanitarian access for the people of Gaza is the immediate priority,” he said, declaring that “the United Nations is ready to act.”

It was not immediately clear whether Israel would send a representative to the meeting in Egypt, and Hamas, shunned widely as a terrorist organization, has not been invited.

In announcing the truce late Saturday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would withhold fire after achieving its goals and more.

“Hamas was hit hard, in its military arms and in its government institutions. Its leaders are in hiding and many of its men have been killed,” Olmert said.

If Hamas holds its fire, the military “will weigh pulling out of Gaza at a time that befits us,” Olmert said. If not, Israel “will continue to act to defend our residents.”

Israel apparently reasons that the two-phase truce would give it ammunition against its international critics: Should Hamas continue to attack, then Israel would be able to resume its offensive after having tried to end it. It was not immediately clear how many rockets would have to fall to provoke an Israeli military response.

Hamas, which rejects Israel’s existence, violently seized control of Gaza in June 2007, provoking a harsh Israeli blockade that has deepened the destitution in the territory of 1.4 million Palestinians. The Israeli war did not loosen Hamas’ grip on Gaza, and the group vowed that a unilateral cease-fire was not enough to end the Islamic movement’s resistance.

“The occupier must halt his fire immediately and withdraw from our land and lift his blockade and open all crossings and we will not accept any one Zionist soldier on our land, regardless of the price that it costs,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

Israel kept its schools in southern Israel closed in anticipation of possible rocket barrages.

More moderate Palestinians also reacted with skepticism to Israel’s two-phase truce and called on world leaders attending the Egypt summit to press Israel to pull out its troops immediately.

“We had hoped that the Israeli announcement would be matched by total cessation of hostilities and the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza,” said Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas is Hamas’ bitter rival and the top leader in the West Bank, the larger of the two Palestinian territories.

“I am afraid that the presence of the Israeli forces in Gaza means that the cease-fire will not stand,” he said.


Ibrahim Barzak reported from Gaza. Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou contributed to this report from Rafah, Gaza Strip, and Edith M. Lederer from the United Nations

source : news.yahoo.com

Israel unilaterally halts fire, troops stay in Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israel unilaterally ceased fire in the Gaza Strip on Sunday but kept its troops there, after a 22-day war meant to halt years of rocket fire on southern Israel, but whose vast scale of death and destruction provoked international outrage.

Israel stopped its offensive before reaching a long-term solution to the problem of arms smuggling into Gaza, one of the war’s declared aims. And Israel’s insistence on keeping soldiers in Gaza raised the prospect of a stalemate with the territory’s Hamas rulers, who have said they would not respect any truce until Israel pulls out.

source : jang.com.pk

Israel begins Gaza ceasefire: army

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military began observing a unilateral ceasefire in the Gaza Strip on Sunday after a 22-day offensive against the Hamas rulers of the Palestinian territory, an army spokesman said.

“Starting at 2:00 am (0000 GMT) we are holding our fire,” an Israeli army spokesman told media.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had earlier declared that Israel would call a halt to an offensive that has killed more than 1,200 Palestinians, although he ordered troops to remain in the enclave and return fire if they came under attack.

source : jang.com.pk

Israeli troops thrust deep into Gaza City

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli forces shelled the United Nations headquarters in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, setting the compound on fire as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was in the area on a mission to end Israel‘s devastating offensive against the territory’s Hamas rulers.

Ban expressed “outrage” over the bombing. He said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told him there had been a “grave mistake” and promised to pay extra attention to protecting U.N. installations.

Even as a top Israeli envoy went to Egypt to discuss a cease-fire proposal, the military pushed farther into Gaza in an apparent effort to step up pressure on Hamas. Ground forces thrust deep into a crowded neighborhood for the first time, sending terrified residents fleeing for cover. Shells also struck a hospital, five high-rise apartment buildings and a building housing media outlets in Gaza City, injuring several journalists.

Bullets also entered another building housing The Associated Press offices, entering a room where two staffers were working but wounding no one. The Foreign Press Association, representing journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories, demanded a halt to attacks on press buildings.

The army has collected the locations of media organizations to avoid such attacks.

Israel launched its war on Dec. 27 in an effort to stop militant rocket fire from Gaza that has terrorized hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Some 1,100 Palestinians have been killed, roughly half of them civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian medical officials. Thirteen Israelis also have died. Israel says it will press ahead until it receives guarantees of a complete halt to rocket fire and an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza from neighboring Egypt.

Israeli envoy Amos Gilad traveled to Cairo on Thursday to discuss truce prospects with Egypt, which has been serving as the key mediator. Israel also sent a senior diplomat to Washington to discuss international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said there was “momentum” in negotiations and Israel was hopeful that a deal on its terms was “close and attainable.”

Barak, visiting soldiers on a southern base, said the fighting would continue, but Israel’s eyes were “also open to the possibility of winding up this operation and consummating Israel’s exceptional results and accomplishments through diplomacy.”

Ban, who arrived in Israel on Thursday morning from Egypt, said he was “outraged” by the attack on the U.N. headquarters.

“I conveyed my strong protest and outrage to the defense minister and foreign minister and demanded a full explanation,” Ban said. He said Barak told him there had been a “grave mistake” and promised to pay extra attention to protecting U.N. installations.

The U.N. compound in Gaza had only that morning become a makeshift shelter for hundreds of Gaza City residents seeking sanctuary from relentless Israeli shelling, a U.N. official in Gaza said.

“These were people who were scared. They rushed into the nearest U.N. facility,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he not authorized to talk to the media.

But shortly after, a shell hit the school, wounding three people, he said. Two other shells hit a warehouse housing humanitarian supplies and a U.N. parking lot, he added.

The U.N. compound houses the U.N. Works and Relief Agency, which distributes food aid to hundreds of thousands of destitute Gazans in the tiny seaside territory of 1.4 million people.

U.N. spokesmen confirmed that at least three people were wounded, but said the fire and smoke engulfing the compound made it impossible to know if it had been completely evacuated.

U.N. spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said the U.N. had given Israel the coordinates of the building, and the compound was also clearly marked with U.N. flags and logos. Large stocks of food and fuel used to supply hospital and water pumps was at risk of destruction, as were valuable U.N. archives dating back to 1948, Abu Hasna said.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Hours earlier, thousands of residents had fled their homes with the advance of Israeli ground troops into Gaza City’s Tel Hawwa neighborhood. Many were clad only in their pajamas, and some were wheeling elderly parents in wheelchairs, one of them with an oxygen tank. Others stopped journalists’ armored cars and ambulances pleading for someone to take them to a U.N. compound or to relatives’ homes.

Rasha Hassam, a 25-year-old engineer, ran out of her apartment building carrying her screaming, crying, 6-year-old daughter, Dunia.

“God help us, God help us, where can we flee?” she cried. “All I want is to get my poor child away from here. We want to survive.”

Thousands of others were trapped in Tel Hawwa’s high-rise buildings by the fire, too afraid to even attempt to flee.

Three shells hit the Al Quds hospital in the neighborhood, setting its pharmacy building ablaze, trapping about 400 patients and staff inside the main hospital building, said Khaled Abu Zeid, a medic inside the building reached on his mobile phone. Gunfire was also reported around the building. It was not clear how many people inside had been wounded in the fighting.

In the nearby downtown area, Israeli tanks fired shells at five high-rise buildings, Palestinian witnesses said.

Israeli defense officials said the intensified assault on Gaza City was not a prelude to a new phase of all-out urban warfare in the narrow alleyways of Gaza’s big cities, where Hamas militants are more familiar with the lay of the land and Israeli casualties would be liable to spiral. The aim, they said, was to heat up the pressure on Hamas to accede to Israel’s demands.

“I think Israel is seeking in the last moments to escalate the military operation to pressure the parties,” said Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas official. “I don’t think this will change the issues on the table.”

The intensified assault on Gaza City highlighted the urgency of diplomatic efforts, the most high-profile being the arrival in the region of Ban, who was meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Thursday. Last week, the U.N. Security Council passed a cease-fire resolution that Hamas and Israel have ignored.

Ban met on Thursday with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and afterward put the onus on the Israeli government.

“We have some elements now in place which may allow a cease fire to come fairly soon,” he told a news conference. “I hope so, but that depends on the political will of the Israeli government.”

He said a full-fledged truce agreement did not have to be worked out before violence ceased.

“You can discuss terms and conditions later, my demand is to cease firing immediately,” he said, acknowleging that he had come “with a heavy heart” at what he called a “difficult time for Israel.”

“I’m well aware that rockets have been fired at Israeli civilians for years from Gaza,” he said. “I have always condemned these as acts of terrorism and said they must cease.”

Rocket fire has fallen off dramatically but not ceased and on Thursday the military reported 14 firings.

Ban will also meet with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, where Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas governs. He will not visit Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since it expelled forces loyal to Abbas in June 2007. The international community does not recognize Hamas’ government.

Egypt has been pressing both sides to accept a 10-day truce while details of a more comprehensive accord can be worked out. Under the Egyptian proposal, Hamas would back off its demand that Israeli troops withdraw from Gaza and borders be opened immediately as part of any halt in fighting.

Instead, Israeli forces would remain in place during the 10-day period until details on border security are worked out, Egyptian and Palestinian officials close to the talks told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of the closed-door negotiations.

A senior Israeli official said it was far from certain Israel would accept the deal. He said Israel was afraid Hamas would not respect a cease-fire as long as troops were in Gaza.

In Damascus, Hamas deputy chief Moussa Abou Marzouk told Al-Arabiya television that Hamas demands an immediate cease-fire, to be followed by Israeli troop withdrawal and the opening of the border for humanitarian aid.

A long-term truce would be discussed later, Marzouk said.


Barzak reported from Gaza City; Teibel from Jerusalem. Associated Press correspondents Salah Nasrawi and Sarah El Deeb contributed from Cairo.

source : jang.com.pk

Red Cross says Gaza humanitarian situation ‘shocking’

JERUSALEM (AFP) – The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is “shocking”, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said after a visit to a hospital in the embattled territory.

“I saw this dramatic humanitarian situation. There’s an increasing number of women and children being wounded and going to hospitals,” Jakob Kellenberger told reporters in Jerusalem.

“It is shocking. It hurts when you see these wounded people and the types of wounds they have. And I think that in addition the number of people coming to these hospitals is increasing,” he said.

The Red Cross president called for improved access for ambulances inside Gaza seeking to recover the wounded and to rescue civilians sheltering from the fighting, saying Israel‘s daily three-hour pause in operations is “not sufficient.”

“It is a positive step that you have a three-hour stop in the fighting, for doing humanitarian work, but it is not sufficient,” he said.

“Civilians who are being wounded, who are being trapped with problems of hunger, without water, you must be able to say that you can reach them.”

Kellenberger — who also visited the Israeli border town of Sderot, which has been hit by hundreds of Palestinian rockets since the war began — urged both sides in the conflict to differentiate between militants and civilians.

He said medical supplies are holding up in Gaza, where over 1,000 people have been killed in heavy fighting and aerial bombardments since the December 27 launch of the largest-ever Israeli offensive on the territory.

“In general (medics) did not complain about the lack of equipment or materials,” he said. “In fact there are a lot of goods coming in” although Israel has sealed Gaza off from all but humanitarian aid since the Hamas movement seized power in June 2007.

Kellenberger said he had seen “no evidence” of anyone wounded by phosphorous bombs, a weapon designed to deploy a smoke screen on the battlefield that Israel has been accused of using in civilian areas.

source : news.yahoo.com