Gaza attacks continue ahead of ceasefire

PALESTINIAN militants fired 50 rockets and mortars toward Israel yesterday, who responded with airstrikes in Gaza, just hours before a truce was to take effect, illustrating how fragile the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas would be.

Both parties had pledged to begin a ceasefire today in a bid to end a year of fighting that has killed more than 400 Palestinians and seven Israelis. The deal came as Israel urged Lebanon to open peace talks.

The ceasefire is expected to be followed next week by the easing of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.

Talks to release an Israeli soldier held by Hamas will then intensify, he said.

Egypt, which brokered the talks, announced a six-month ceasefire, saying it would begin this morning at 6am. Hamas confirmed the deal soon afterward.

“Thursday will be the beginning we hope of a new reality where Israeli citizens in the south will no longer be on the receiving end of continuous rocket attacks,” Regev said. “Israel is giving a serious chance to this Egyptian initiative and we want it to succeed.”

Egypt has committed, as part of the deal, to stop the smuggling of arms and weapons from its territory into Gaza, Israeli defence officials said.

If Israel determines that Egyptian anti-smuggling efforts are serious, Hamas, Egypt and European officials will begin talks on opening Gaza’s Rafah crossing into Egypt, Israeli defence officials said.

“We appreciate Egypt’s efforts and hope they are ultimately successful, but for that to happen, Hamas has to choose to become a legitimate political party and give up terrorism. They can’t continue to do both,” said White House deputy press secretary, Gordon Johndroe.

In Gaza, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said the truce is in all sides’ interests: “The calm is going to bring stability to Israel if they commit themselves to it... The calm is going to ease the lives of Gazans.”

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