Hamas ceasefire brings uneasy peace to Gaza

Israeli troops start to withdraw 22 days after military offensive began but Olmert's government reserves right to resume attacks

Hamas declared a week-long ceasefire in Gaza yesterday within hours of the truce unilaterally announced by Israel coming into effect.

The Hamas declaration, 22 days after Israel's military offensive began, put the ball back in Israel's court after its ceasefire was first met by the firing of 17 rockets from Gaza into Israel. Israel responded with two air strikes, killing one Palestinian civilian.

The Israeli military announced last night that it had begun to pull troops and tanks out of Gaza. The Israeli government welcomed the Hamas declaration but reserved the right to carry out further punitive military action if rocket and mortar fire continued across the border. "We'll play this day by day. We'll see how this goes," a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said. "We want to leave Gaza. We'll do so as soon as we can." In its declaration, Hamas gave Israel a week to pull its forces out of the territory.

The moves by both sides ensure that the inauguration of Barack Obama tomorrow will not take place against the backdrop of ferocious violence in Gaza.

However, with no formal peace deal in place, diplomatic attempts to turn the ceasefire into a longer-term settlement gathered momentum; Western leaders hastened to the region; arriving in Israel after a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Among those attending the summit hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

On his way to the summit, Mr Brown appeared critical of the Israeli military. "We are yet to discover the full scale of the appalling suffering. But what is already clear is that too many innocent civilians, including hundreds of children, have been killed during the military offensive," he said. "Israel must allow full access to humanitarian workers and to relief supplies."

The Israelis have insisted that stopping the smuggling of weapons to Hamas is crucial to a peace deal. However, although Western naval forces including the Royal Navy will patrol the Gaza coast and Israel has signed an agreement with the US ensuring America's assistance, Egypt repeated yesterday that it would not accept foreign forces on its side of the Gaza border.

Hamas's leadership in Damascus said it was willing to respond to efforts by Egypt to broker an end to the 18-month siege of Gaza which has cut it off from the outside world and led to mass deprivation for its 1.5 million people.

Israeli tank crews were giving "V" for victory salutes yesterday as they sat on top of their vehicles but it is by no means clear what they have achieved. Israeli military intelligence officers admit that only a few hundred of the estimated 20,000 Hamas fighters have been killed and they retain several hundred rockets.

In the eyes of many Israelis, the Gaza war has restored Israel's ability to deter its enemies, a deterrence that had been degraded by its failure to crush Hizbollah during the 2006 war in Lebanon. Yet, whatever Mr Olmert's intention the short war has also propelled Gaza and its people to the top of the international agenda in a way that was never true before. Operation Cast Lead has made the future of Gaza the first issue with which the incoming administration of Barack Obama will have to deal.

And while Israel has shown its military strength, politically it has not decisively weakened Hamas. The Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, and the Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, have every incentive to sell the war as a victory when they go to the polls on 10 February. But anger among Palestinians at Hamas for provoking Israeli wrath is being balanced by a sense that Hamas is now the main vehicle for Palestinian nationalism.

The war in numbers

1,300 Palestinians killed.

5,300 Palestinians wounded.

410 Palestinian children killed.

100,000 Gazans displaced

840,000 Children in Gaza in 'extreme stress'

13 Israelis killed by Hamas rockets

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
LifeReddit asked a simple question with infinite answers this week
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Life and Style
beauty
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice