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Page last updated at 19:01 GMT, Thursday, 19 June 2008 20:01 UK

Fragile ceasefire holds in Gaza

Israeli soldiers play football at positions near the Gaza border - 19/06/2008
The Egyptian-mediated truce took effect at dawn on Thursday

A ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian armed group Hamas in Gaza has held during its first day amid widespread scepticism on both sides.

It began early on Thursday despite a flurry of last-minute cross-border missile fire before it took effect.

The truce is meant to stop missiles being fired into Israel and to halt Israeli incursions into the Gaza Strip.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has expressed strong scepticism about the chances of lasting peace, during a BBC interview.

"Quite frankly I don't think that in the essence of what Hamas is all about, that they are likely to change their attitude," he said. "They are set to destroy Israel. That is what they say."

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said he is leading a drive for peace

If the ceasefire does hold, Israel will ease its blockade on Gaza and there may be further talks on a prisoner exchange.

There were no reports of fire from either side on Thursday morning and afternoon.

While things may be calm, there is no euphoria, says the BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem.

And few people appear to believe that the ceasefire is heralding a political breakthrough, says our correspondent.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group which controls Gaza, said it was confident all militants would abide by the Egypt-brokered truce, which is supposed to last six months.

GAZA TRUCE TIMETABLE
map
0600 (0300 GMT) Thursday ceasefire begins
After 24 hours, Israel begins to ease crossing restrictions
After five days, Israel opens up crossings
After two weeks, talks to begin on reopening the Rafah crossing into Egypt

Since the last ceasefire collapsed in April 2007, about 600 Palestinians and 18 Israelis have been killed in fighting between the two sides.

A senior Hamas figure in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said the truce would "bring stability to Israel if they commit themselves to it".

Israelis in the south of the country will appreciate the relief from daily missile fire, says our Jerusalem correspondent, but many fear that a ceasefire could give Hamas the chance to rearm and strengthen itself further.

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

Israel then tightened its blockade on Gaza, allowing through only humanitarian supplies.

Under the terms of the new agreement, Israel will ease restrictions on the trade of certain goods between Gaza and Israel on Friday morning, and open up the crossings for all commercial goods next week.

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Footage of militants dismantling their rockets and weapons

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

And negotiations on the return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by militants in Gaza in June 2006, are supposed to resume within a few days, Israeli sources say.

Separately, Mr Olmert told the BBC that peace talks with the Palestinian Authority were going well.

He said serious progress had been made on issues including the borders of a future Palestinian state. He said Israel could make dramatic compromises on territorial issues but that the Palestinians would have to make compromises as well.

Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas pledged last year to works towards concluding a peace agreement by the end of 2008.

Just hours before the truce came into effect, a barrage of rockets and mortars were fired into Israel and the Israeli army killed a Palestinian militant in an air strike.



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