Gaza truce called amid Israeli strikes

Published May 20, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Gunmen armed with rifles, grenades and explosives climbed down from rooftop positions Saturday and residents began venturing out of bullet-scarred homes after their leaders agreed to end a week of Palestinian factional bloodshed in Gaza.

The truce began to take hold as Israel launched a fifth day of airstrikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in reprisal for the Islamic militant group's rocket attacks on Israeli border towns. Other recent cease-fires between the factions have been short-lived, but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said he expected this one to stick because of Israel's military action.

"No one would accept to fight one another while the Israelis are shelling Gaza, " he said.

The clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have brought the two groups that nominally share power to the brink of civil war. More than 50 Palestinians have been killed in a week of infighting.

The overlapping violence from Israel's attacks on Hamas rocket operations has killed 23 other Palestinians in the past week.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed Saturday to keep going after Hamas militants who would fire rockets at Israel, warning them to be "very afraid."

An Israeli airstrike killed three people in a car in Gaza early today, Palestinian medics said. Israel said the car was carrying three Hamas radicals and a load of weapons.

On Saturday, Israeli air attacks on Hamas targets killed four Palestinians, while five rockets from Gaza hit the Israeli border area, causing damage, but no injury.

Saturday's truce committed the battling Palestinian factions to pull fighters off the streets and exchange hostages.

Truce enforcers from various factions went from rooftop to rooftop, urging gunmen to leave. At one Gaza City building that had been the site of fierce fighting, Hamas fighters climbed down carrying a cache of rocket-propelled grenades, bags of explosives and AK-47 rifles.

Some Gazans returned to their apartments, passing evacuating fighters on the way, only to decide the damage was too great for them to stay.

The cease-fire was negotiated in a meeting at the Egyptian representative office in Gaza City and endorsed by Abbas and Hamas' exiled supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal.

"Both leaders ... made their calculations and realized that they can't gain this way, " Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said.