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Gaza truce holding; Netanyahu faces criticism in Israel

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Gaza/Jerusalem (27th August, 2014): An open-ended ceasefire in the Gaza war held on Wednesday as PM Benjamin Netanyahu faced strong criticism in Israel over a costly conflict with Palestinian militants in which no clear victor has emerged.

On the streets of the battered, Hamas-run Palestinian enclave, people headed to shops and banks, trying to resume the normal pace of life after seven weeks of fighting. Thousands of others, who had fled the battles and sheltered with relatives or in schools, returned home, where some found only rubble.

In Israel, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire from the Gaza Strip fell silent.

Netanyahu told a news conference that Israel had dealt Hamas its toughest blow ever and had rebuffed its demands for a truce. He said it was "too early to say" whether the calm would be prolonged, then threatened the Islamist group by stating if they resumes fire Israel will respond even more vigorously.

But Israeli media commentators, echoing attacks by members of Netanyahu's governing coalition, voiced deep disappointment over his leadership during the most prolonged bout of Israeli-Palestinian violence in a decade.

Israeli opinion polls showed his popularity plummeting, such as a survey on Channel 10 television in which viewers gave him a grade of 55 percent, down from a 69 percent score at the beginning of the month.

"After 50 days of warfare in which a terror organisation killed dozens of soldiers and civilians, destroyed the daily routine (and) placed the country in a state of economic distress ... we could have expected much more than an announcement of a ceasefire," analyst Shimon Shiffer wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest-selling newspaper.
"We could have expected the prime minister to go to the president’s residence and inform him of his decision to resign his post."

Answering critics, Netanyahu told a news conference: "I don't set unrealistic goals. We're not dealing here with populism."

Palestinian health officials say 2,139 people, most of them civilians, including more than 490 children, have been killed in the enclave since July 8, when Israel launched an offensive with the declared aim of ending rocket salvoes.

Israel's death toll stood at 64 soldiers and six civilians.

The Egyptian-mediated ceasefire agreement that took effect on Tuesday evening, called for an indefinite halt to hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza's blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt, and a widening of the territory's fishing zone in the Mediterranean.

A senior Hamas official voiced willingness for the security forces of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the unity government he formed in June to control the passage points.

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are seeking guarantees that weapons will not enter Gaza, a narrow, densely populated territory of 1.8 million people.

Under a second stage of the truce that would begin a month later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss construction of a Gaza sea port and Israel's release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank, possibly in a trade for the remains of two Israeli soldiers believed held by Hamas, the officials said.





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