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Israel and Hamas call halt to fighting

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Israel and Hamas call halt to fighting
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As of this morning a ceasefire is now in place in Gaza after Israel and Hamas called a halt to any further fighting. The truce is meant to end months of bitter clashes with the Palestinian Islamist movement but already both sides have expressed some doubt about how long the truce will hold. As Israeli armoured units stood by, ready to move, residents of the Israeli town of Sderot were still dealing with the aftermath of rocket attacks.

One resident whose house was damaged in a strike said: “I do not believe in the calm. I have no trust in the government and do not believe, maybe in my dreams, that this will happen.”

In Gaza city Palestinians marched in funeral processions for 10 people killed in Israeli airstrikes over the last two days. Four Islamic Jihad members were among the dead.

The Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh said: “This calm should bring security in the interests of our people and reduce their suffering. It should also bring some comfort to the Israelis if they stick to the truce.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: “It should be clear, we did not and will not conduct negotiations with any terror organisation. We have no illusions, what they are caling a ‘calm’ is fragile and likely to be short-lived.”

The truce comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in the region. Israel and Syria have been holding separate peace talks mediated by Turkey. Meanwhile Israel said it was ready for talks with Lebanon (over the Shebaa farms, currently occupied by Israel).

France is working hard behind the scenes too. French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner
is trying to persuade his Israeli counterpart to involve Syria in plans for a new Mediterranean union.