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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 August 2006, 07:07 GMT 08:07 UK
Gaza ceasefire hopes dwindle
By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Gaza

The ceasefire may have taken hold in Lebanon, but in Gaza - on Israel's forgotten front - the killing goes on.

Palestinian boys crying
Up to 200 Palestinians have died in Israeli attacks in recent weeks

Three more Palestinians have died in Israeli shell fire.

Within minutes of the start of the Lebanon truce, two Katyusha rockets were launched from Gaza.

They crashed into the nearby Israeli city of Ashkelon, but there were no serious injuries.

The Islamic Jihad organisation said the missiles were fired in retaliation for "the Zionist aggression against the Palestinian people and our brothers in Lebanon."

The Israeli military says that the rocket launch site, near the northern town of Beit Hanoun, was targeted. But according to the Palestinian side, the militants escaped.

Instead, civilian bystanders - three men from the same family who lived nearby - were killed in a prolonged barrage.

Reports from the area say that local people had tried to drive away the militants, knowing that the rocket fire might attract a deadly Israeli response.

No deal

For several weeks Gaza has come under sustained and at times intense pressure from the army.

The Israelis say they are trying to both stop the rocket attacks, and free a soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit.

He was captured by militants from Hamas and other groups who said they were responding to a long series of army attacks.

Gilad Shalit
Cpl Gilad Shalit, 19, was taken by gunmen in a raid on 25 June

Early on, the Hamas-controlled Palestinian government proposed a ceasefire.

Hamas also says that the soldier could be freed in return for the release of some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners - women and children among them - who are held in Israeli jails.

But the Israelis have so far refused to make any deal with what it regards as a terrorist organisation - and one that talks of ultimately seeking Israel's destruction.

Mounting destruction

Close to 200 Palestinians have been killed in dozens of air raids and ground assaults. Several hundred more have been injured, and many of the casualties have been civilians. One Israeli soldier has died - killed accidentally by his comrades.

There has been major damage to Gaza's roads, bridges and government buildings.

An air raid on the only power plant has led to severe electricity shortages. That in turn has caused water supply problems, considerably increasing the hardship endured by many people in this poverty-stricken place.

Gaza rabble
Water and electricity supply in Gaza has been seriously damaged

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, John Dugard, has accused Israel of violating "the most fundamental norms of humanitarian law".

But the situation in Gaza has been completely overshadowed by the Lebanon war. People here regard the international community as having turned away and ignored their suffering.

In the aftermath of the Lebanese truce, the Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya, has talked again of the possibility of ceasefire in Gaza.

"We have no qualms about negotiating with Israel," he told the Israeli daily Haaretz. "But Israel is the one that must decide whether it will grant the Palestinians their rights."

On the streets of Gaza though, the concern is that the violence here may escalate. The view is that if Lebanon is calmer the Israeli military may again devote more resources to this conflict.

There is a feeling, too, that given the setbacks that Israel encountered in Lebanon, it will be even less willing to compromise with the Palestinians.

Israel and the Palestinians



Palestinian women sit on a roof top of the home of a Palestinian family in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on 20 November 2006. Human shields
Palestinians adopt a new tactic to deter Israeli attacks, but this is a high-risk strategy




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