Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 16:05 UK

Israel agrees to Gaza ceasefire

Hamas security men in training in Gaza City
Hamas says it is fully committed to the agreement

Israel has approved a ceasefire to end months of bitter clashes with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed.

Under the terms of the truce, which is set to begin on Thursday, Israel will ease its blockade on the Gaza Strip.

At the same time, talks to release an Israeli soldier held by Hamas would intensify, an Israeli official said.

Later, Israel said it was also interested in direct, bilateral talks with Lebanon.

Rocket attacks

Hamas, which controls Gaza, says it is confident that all militants will abide by the truce.

0600 (0300 GMT) Thursday ceasefire begins
After 24 hours, Israel eases crossing restrictions
After five days, Israel opens commercial crossings
After two weeks, Egypt starts talks with all sides to seek re-opening of Rafah crossing

The agreement is due to begin at 0600 (0300 GMT) on Thursday and is supposed to last six months.

Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007, driving out forces loyal to Fatah, the political faction led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Since then, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community have sought to isolate Hamas.

For Hamas, the ceasefire agreement is an acknowledgement that Israel's economic blockade of Gaza is hurting its administration and is having a hugely detrimental impact on Gaza's population, says the BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem.

The decision to approve the ceasefire was made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak. It followed the return of a defence official from Cairo, where talks were held with Egyptian mediators.

Making his first public comment about the truce, Mr Olmert expressed his hope that it would succeed.

But, he added: "We should not have illusions. The terror organisations, and Hamas among them, have not changed their goals."

The White House gave the truce a cautious welcome, saying it hoped Hamas would "give up terrorism".

Ehud Olmert (3 June 2008)
The Israeli government said that it would give the truce a chance

Earlier, Israeli Radio said eight rockets had been fired from Gaza towards Israel on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Israel said it was ready for talks with Lebanon and would consider all issues of dispute, including the Shebaa Farms, currently occupied by Israel.

Separately, Israel and Syria have been holding indirect peace talks, mediated by Turkey.

A breakthrough in those discussions could bolster Mr Olmert at home, where he faces a corruption scandal, correspondents say.

According to a breakdown of the truce released by Hamas, Israel will ease its restrictions for the trade of certain goods between Gaza and Israel on Friday morning, and open up the crossings for all commercial goods next week.

An Israeli soldier prays next to his tank along the border with Gaza Strip on 18 June 2008
Hamas says Israel will ease its Gaza border restrictions under the deal

After two weeks, talks will start involving Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and the EU on reopening the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

An Israeli security source told Israel Radio that negotiations on the return of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit were expected to resume within a few days.

Confirmation of the truce coincided with the publication of a new UN report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The UN said power cuts and fuel shortages meant that more than half of Gaza's population had access to water only every other day, while a quarter received it only every four days.

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