CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - At 6:00 a.m. Thursday, the Egyptian-brokered tahadiyeh (temporary calm) between Israel and the Gaza-based Hamas terror organization went into effect.
The six-month truce calls for a complete cessation of terror attacks emanating from Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including, but not limited to, rocket and mortar shell attacks.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will halt its counter-terrorism operations inside Gaza so long as there are no overt terror attacks.
"We need a total cease-fire -- all inclusive," Major General Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Military Bureau told YNet news.
"If tomorrow morning one single rocket is fired, it will be a violation of the agreement. There is no room for interpretation, and no mediating body is needed. We will not accept the firing of even one Kassam," said Gilad, who has represented Israel in the negotiations.
"Egypt, on its side, has committed to preventing the smuggling activity from Gaza. It's simple. Egypt has a border with Gaza, through which weapons and terrorists are smuggled. Smuggling is a serious violation of the terms [of the cease-fire]. Any such infraction will lead to a change in Israel's stance from the way in which it was presented to the Egyptians," Gilad said.
If the calm lasts three days, Israel will begin easing the economic blockade imposed on Gaza by allowing non-essential raw materials and merchandise to be delivered.
Contrary to most media reports, Israel has never stopped the flow of humanitarian aid into the Strip.
The blockade entailed reducing non-essentials, such as construction material and fuel, to underscore that as long as Israelis in western Negev communities lived under the daily threat of rocket and mortar shell attacks, it should not be "business as usual" for Gaza residents.
The Release of Corporal Shalit
In the same timeframe -- three days of calm -- when Israel begins to lift the blockade, Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman has committed to focusing on the release of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, kidnapped on June 25, 2006, in a cross-border attack on the army outpost near the Kerem Shalom crossing.
While Israel made it clear from the beginning that Shalit's release must be part of any truce, Hamas has maintained that releasing Corporal Shalit is unrelated to a cease-fire.
"The enemy tried…to merge the issue of Gilad Shalit with the truce. We rejected this and in the final Egyptian offer, the two issues are not linked," exiled Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal said from Damascus Tuesday.
"The Gilad Shalit issue is linked to an exchange deal, whereas the truce involves a bilateral cease-fire, lifting the blockade and opening the crossings," he said.
But if Shalit is not released, Israel will not agree to open the Rafah border crossing, which links the Egyptian Sinai with the Gaza Strip.
"If Gilad Shalit is not released, [the] Rafah [border] crossing does not open," Gilad said, adding that "the cease-fire is the only way we may be able to bring about Shalit's release."
"During the last discussion [with Egyptian mediators], we set aside a third of the time allotted to speak about Shalit, and we were adamant in demanding that his release be part of the agreement," Gilad said.
"The idea is to try to focus our efforts on releasing the soldier. My feeling is that a cease-fire would promote the release," he said. "This was the policy declared by the Cabinet, and I spoke about this to the Egyptians. Shalit is part of the cease-fire agreement," he said.
Hamas is clamoring for the opening of the Rafah crossing, which has been the main entry for arms smuggling into the Strip.
"This is a complex and difficult issue," Gilad said."The opening of Rafah was an issue that came up during the agreement that was decided upon between the Palestinian Authority [PA] and Israel, the US and the EU, which sent its inspectors. Thus, this is a complicated process conditioned on progress being made in the Shalit deal," Gilad said.
Netanyahu Slams Decision
Opposition leader and Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu slammed the government's decision to accept a truce with Hamas.
"I would like to know what did we achieve here, exactly?" Netanyahu asked. "Hamas will not stop rearming. [Hamas chief] Khaled Mashaal said they wouldn't, and the defense establishment already said the truce will be fragile," he said.
"We didn't get Shalit back. We got nothing. The government is allowing Hamas to go about rearming before the next round of terror attacks," said Netanyahu.
"What can this artificial truce possibly achieve? Will Hamas dismantle its lathes? It will only use this time to bring more Kassam rockets and Grad [Katyusha] rockets into the Strip. There's no doubt about it," he said.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon said the cease-fire will serve to strengthen Hamas and weaken PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
"The tahadiyeh is [a] recognition of Hamas and a very serious blow to the Palestinian Authority and its leaders, who will negotiate to establish a joint government with Hamas," Ramon said, calling the cease-fire "a victory for radical Islam."
"In the end, there will be a [large-scale military] operation, but it will extract a much higher price," he said.
Hamas: a Terrorist Entity
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Tom Casey summed up the Bush administration's reaction to the cease-fire.
"Even if this is a true report, I think unfortunately it hardly takes Hamas out of the terrorism business," Casey said.
Hamas to this day denies Israel's right to exist.
"Hamas is a violent entity, a terrorist entity, which has taken upon itself to destroy the State of Israel. We know this, and they know this," General Gilad said.
"I am a realistic man and so I won't talk about my feelings regarding the agreement on a lull. I recognize Hamas as a strategic threat to Israel," he said.
Meanwhile, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi told Knesset (parliament) members Tuesday that the IDF must prepare for a major incursion in the Gaza Strip, while giving the cease-fire a chance.
Ashkenazi also said the IDF will continue its counter-terror operations in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
Sources: YNet news, The Jerusalem Post, The Associated Press, Haaretz