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Hamas, Israel truce greeted with skepticism and hope

The temporary cease-fire deal bids to end attacks from Gaza militants and the Israeli army and improve life in the impoverished coastal strip.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 19, 2008


A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will go into effect 6 a.m. Thursday, in an Egyptian-brokered deal being met with a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism.

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The truce, intended to last six months, means that each side agrees not to fire on the other, holding out the possibility of bringing the past year of deadly violence to a period of détente.

The hope for calm in Gaza and southern Israel comes as Israel is reaching out to foes Lebanon and Syria in what appears to be a renewed effort to settle long-unresolved regional conflicts. Israel and Syria have just finished a second round of indirect peace talks that address the disputed Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Now, the Jewish state is offering talks with Lebanon that would include the Shebba Farms, which both countries claim as their own.

In the deal with Hamas, what isn't in the agreement has both Israelis and Palestinians worried. Palestinian critics say that since the deal does not include a promise by Israel to stop its West Bank military operations, the possibility of the cease-fire collapsing quickly is real. In the past, Gaza militants, such as Islamic Jihad, have fired rockets or mortars that they say are in retaliation for Israeli actions in the West Bank.

While Islamic Jihad has said it would not disrupt the truce, according to Hamas, it did fire rockets into Israel Wednesday. The militants said the attack was in response to Israel killing 10 of its members over the past two days.

Israelis are equally tentative. Many say that the cease-fire will give Hamas time to rebuild. Others are concerned the deal emboldens Hamas vis-á-vis Fatah, which controls the West Bank.

"It's not clear to what extent Hamas can maintain a cease-fire, especially in terms of imposing it on some of the non-Hamas organizations, and even among some of the Hamas people themselves," says Ephraim Kam, deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a think tank at Tel Aviv University.

"Among the security establishment in Israel, the expectation is that it won't hold for long," he adds. "Many feel that the [truce] will just be a postponement of the unavoidable clash which might take place under even worse conditions, in which Hamas will have more sophisticated weapons and be better trained."

But, he acknowledges, that formula works both ways. "The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] will also be able to strengthen itself to fight Hamas, if a showdown is going to take place."

Hamas officials in Gaza say they will have no difficulty enforcing the deal, and that it's up to Israel to make sure that it sticks.