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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.

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"We are determined to keep to the commitments. The ball is in Israel's court – it is the one meant to implement the understandings into real actions," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri said.

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Both the Israeli government and the Hamas leadership have been trying to do crisis management on many levels. Israeli politicians from many different parties have been working to force out Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who faces corruption charges. Hamas leaders, meanwhile, have to contend with the severity of the economic deterioration in Gaza since militants staged a violent coup a year ago, overrunning Fatah.

The cease-fire, which has been in the works for several months, does not include agreement on some crucial points that Israeli and Hamas officials had hoped for. Israel wanted it to include the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas two years ago, and Palestinians wanted to see an immediate opening of the Rafah crossing into Egypt. But in the best-case scenario, the cease-fire could be a springboard to progress on both issues.

In the southern Israeli towns that have felt the brunt of the uptick in rocket and mortar fire from Gaza militants, skepticism prevails.

In early May, a round of mortars landed on Kibbutz Kfar Azza, within a mile of the Gaza border, killing one. In the kibbutz cafeteria Wednesday, Amos Zifroni gestured to an empty expanse of grass outside, explaining that the mortar fire made it too dangerous for children to play outside.

"I hope it will be different with the cease-fire. We hope there will be quiet for some time," he says. "But like everyone, I don't think it will hold too long."

But Mr. Zifroni says he believes the truce will give both sides some breathing room to negotiate the release of Corporal Shalit and negotiate the reopening of the border crossing.

Another kibbutz member, Ziva Cohen, says a longer-term solution is needed. "Shooting doesn't seem to be a solution. At the end of the day, you need to talk."

In Gaza City, the mixed emotions about the truce mirrored those found inside the bucolic kibbutz across the border.

Mohammed Shanti's clothing store is nearly empty of merchandise because of the Israeli-blockade on the strip. "I am very happy that, after long suffering, business will improve. I have a lot of clothes that I bought before the siege and they are stuck in Israeli stores. I have started my contacts with Israeli partners in Tel Aviv to prepare for resuming imports," he says.

"But I am afraid that the agreement will not continue for long," he adds. "The Israelis were never committed to any agreement. So, if the borders open, I plan to buy a lot of clothes."

Joshua Mitnick contributed reporting from southern Israel and Safwat al-Kahlout from Gaza City, Gaza.

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