New Gaza truce takes effect, Israel presses air raids

ghaza.jpgGAZA CITY (AFP) — Rival Palestinian factions clinched a new ceasefire deal on Saturday to end a week of violence that has left more than 50 dead as Israel continued to pound targets across Gaza, killing one Palestinian.Gunmen began to abandon rooftop positions and to remove street barricades under the eye of Egyptian mediators and representatives of different factions, accompanied by the military adviser to Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, General Abdul Razzaq Majaida. “The agreement has begun to be applied,” Majaida told AFP after steps began to be taken around 1330 GMT. “The armed men are coming down from the tower blocks and the barriers are being removed.” It was the fifth such deal since violence erupted on Sunday but the first in which steps were actually taken to implement it.

An AFP correspondent witnessed a dozen gunmen leave one of the highest vantage points in central Gaza City and also saw barricades being removed from Jalla Street.

In announcing the truce, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s spokesman Ghazi Hamad said “armed men will leave [their positions in]  buildings and streets, will remove road blocks and release hostages on both sides.”

The deal was struck at the Egyptian mission in Gaza in the presence of Haniyeh, who had been in contact with exiled Hamas political supremo Khaled Mishaal as well as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Abbas.

“We hope that the Palestinians will respect the ceasefire concluded under Egyptian auspices,” Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said not long after the truce went into effect.

He called on Israel “not to attack the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip” because that “creates tensions between the Palestinians and speeds the resumption of clashes”. He also called on Palestinian groups to halt rocket fire against the Jewish state, reminding them of “Israel’s military supremacy”.

Gunmen had clashed in the streets of Gaza City earlier for a seventh straight day, although no casualties were reported and residents returned cautiously to the streets in several districts where the fighting has subsided.

And shortly after announcement of the new truce, but before it took effect, gunmen opened fire on the convoy of Gaza intelligence chief General Mohammad Masri, causing no casualties, Fateh spokesman Maher Maqdad said.

The fighting has killed a total of 51 people, six of them civilians, as Western and Muslim countries have urged calm.

Israel, meanwhile, continued its aerial offensive on Gaza in a bid to curb the incessant rocket fire against its towns, which has intensified since the violence erupted between Hamas and Fateh.

The Israeli army said it carried out an air raid against “three members of a Qassam rocket-launching cell that had just fired a rocket towards Israel”. A Palestinian, identified by medics as a civilian, was killed in the northern Gaza attack and five others were wounded.

Aircraft overnight targeted two metal workshops in Gaza City where the army said makeshift Qassam rockets were being made, as well as the offices of an association linked to Fateh.

Israeli tanks which had crossed into Palestinian territory in northern Gaza in recent days also opened fire at suspected rocket launchers, the army said. Five Palestinians were wounded in the raids.

Defence Minister Amir Peretz said that while the army would continue operations to curb rocket fire, Israel did not intend to carry out an extensive ground offensive in Gaza, which it quit in 2005 after a 38-year presence.

“We should consider when the [ground] operation needs to be carried out. It is not necessary right now and we have sufficient room for manoeuvre,” Peretz told public radio.

Despite the presence of Israeli forces along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, fighters have fired at least 50 rockets in recent days. Those attacks have wounded six Israeli civilians and driven hundreds of people from the town of Sderot, which has borne the brunt of the barrage.

An Israeli soldier was lightly wounded in a rocket attack on an army bulldozer near Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, an army spokesman said.

Israeli air strikes on Gaza, which resumed on Tuesday for the first time in six months, have killed 18 Palestinians, including at least two civilians.

The Gaza bloodshed has raised the spectre of all-out civil war.

It has also threatened to torpedo efforts to revive Middle East peacemaking after Arab states adopted a revived plan offering normal ties with Israel if it withdraws from all land occupied during the 1967 war.

The Palestinian unity Cabinet that took office on March 17 in a Saudi-mediated deal was supposed to end factional fighting that killed more than 100 people in December and January.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

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