- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2008

TEL AVIV | A fragile cease-fire between Hamas and Israel lasted through its first day as each side threatened to inflict painful retribution for any resumption of hostilities across the border dividing Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Despite low expectations on both sides, a commentator on Israel’s Channel 1 television news said that Hamas has an interest in the short-run to ensure the calm holds up on the Palestinian side.

Just minutes before the truce went into effect Thursday, an Israeli aircraft fired on a rocket launching squad in central Gaza, killing a militant.

But at 6 a.m., the guns fell silent, Israeli surveillance drones left the skies and residents near the Gaza border could hear the birds instead of shooting.

TWT EDITORIAL: A dubious truce

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that the lull in fighting would be Israel’s last attempt at a peaceful resolution before a broad offensive in the Gaza Strip is ordered.

The cease-fire is “fragile” and “is liable to be short-lived,” Mr. Olmert said.

An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed there were no shooting incidents on Thursday - the first time in recent memory there was no cross-border fighting.

Hamas promised a painful retribution should Israel violate the non-aggression agreement. “We see this as a victory of the Palestinian desire and proof of the failure of Israel,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

The cease-fire came as Israel and its Arab neighbors appeared to make progress in talks on other negotiation tracks. The French government is hoping to arrange a meeting between Mr. Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad at a regional summit in the coming weeks. There are also heightened expectations for a prisoner swap with Hezbollah.

If the Gaza cease-fire holds, Israel plans to boost the number of trucks entering the Gaza Strip with food and medical supplies Sunday.

Negotiations are scheduled to restart between Egypt, Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority on opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. An accord would mark a major reconciliation between the Mr. Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas after Hamas seized control of Gaza last year.

Israeli and Hamas leaders are also expected to return to Egypt next week to resume negotiations on a swap of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in return for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped at the border two years ago.

Mr. Olmert is scheduled to visit Egypt Tuesday, presumably to discuss the deal.

On Thursday, Cpl. Shalit’s father and grandfather attacked the Israeli government for leaving the soldier out of the cease-fire agreement. In a letter to the government, Cpl. Shalit’s father, Noam, threatened to appeal the deal to Israel’s Supreme Court.

The cease-fire was also attacked by Israeli politicians in the parliamentary opposition as giving Hamas an opportunity to rebuild its forces.

“This is not a relaxation, it’s an Israeli agreement to the rearming of Hamas,” said opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. “What are we getting for this?”

Mr. Abbas praised the agreement, though Israeli analysts said that the cease-fire with Hamas weakens his Fatah party because it was left out of the deal.

In Sderot, the southern Israeli town bombarded by rocket fire for seven years, residents returned to the streets and children to playgrounds. Residents from one border kibbutz who had relocated out of the range of the rocket fire began moving back.

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