Israel-Hamas Ceasefire Takes Effect in GazaBy Robert Berger
19 June 2008

An Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire has taken effect in the Gaza Strip. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Backdropped by the Gaza Strip, an Israeli tank drives on the Israel-Gaza border, 19 Jun 2008After months of Palestinian rocket barrages and Israeli army raids, the guns in and around the Gaza Strip have fallen silent. The ceasefire between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas, that rules Gaza, is supposed to last for six months. If it holds, Israel will begin lifting its crippling blockade on Gaza, Sunday.

Both sides doubt that the truce can hold. Hamas refuses to recognize the Jewish state and is committed to armed resistance, so Israel fears the group will dig in for the next round of violence. Israeli spokesman Mark Regev.

"If we see Hamas using this period of quiet just to rearm and regroup, all bets are off," he said. "There will not be an understanding."

Israel has tightened sanctions on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in a civil war with the rival and more moderate Fatah faction, a year ago. Hamas ousted Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who now heads a moderate government in the West Bank.

"We welcome the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas," said Fatah spokesman Jamal Nazzal. "We are going to do everything we can to support it, in spite of all the doubt we have that Israel will commit itself to the ceasefire."

Regev, the Israeli spokesman, says the second phase of the truce will deal with captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid, two years ago.

"This process can only go so far, as long as Gilad Shalit is held hostage," he said. "He must be released."

But Israel has been reluctant to pay the price demanded by Hamas - the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including militants responsible for deadly suicide bombings.

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