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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £38,000

£22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...

Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Health & Safety Support Tutor

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Assistant

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests