Israel, Hamas maintain ceasefire


A ceasefire agreed under intense Egyptian and American pressure between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas to halt eight days of bloody conflict seemed to be holding on Thursday, averting a full-scale Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip without resolving the underlying disputes.

With Israeli forces still massed on the Gaza border, a tentative calm in the fighting descended after the agreement was announced on Wednesday night. Some of the tens of thousands of Israeli reservists called up during the conflagration appeared to be making preparations on Thursday to re-deploy away from staging areas along the Gaza border where the Israeli military had mounted a buildup of armor and troops.

The success of the truce will be an early test of how Egypt's new Islamist government might influence the most intractable conflict in the Middle East.

In southern Israel, the target of more than 1,500 rockets fired from Gaza over the past week, wary residents began to return to routine. But schools within a 25-mile radius of the Palestinian enclave remained closed and thousands of soldiers mobilized for possible ground invasion remained along the Gaza border. The military said a decision regarding the troop deployment would be made after an assessment of the situation later Thursday.

A rocket alert sounded at the small village of Nativ Haasara near the border with Gaza on Thursday morning, sending residents who were skeptical about the cease-fire running for shelter, but the military said it had been a false alarm.

Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza in support of the ceasefire as the Hamas leaders emerged from the fighting claiming victory.

Israel Radio said a dozen rockets were fired from Gaza in the first few hours of the ceasefire, but Israeli forces did not respond. In the rival Twitter feeds that offered a cyberspace counterpoint to the exchanges of airstrikes and rockets, the Israel Defense Forces said they had achieved their objectives while the armed Al Qassam Brigades in Gaza said Israeli forces had "raised the white flag."

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