June 17, 2008 / 5:43 PM / 9 years ago

Hope and doubt over truce across Israel-Gaza border

<p>An Israeli man walks at the scene of a mortar attack in a paint factory in kibbutz Nir Oz, just outside the southern Gaza Strip June 5, 2008.Amir Cohen</p>

NIR OZ, Israel/GAZA (Reuters) - For Yossi Atzili, a truce with Hamas Islamists is the only way to stop mortar bombs from the Gaza Strip whizzing across the border and smashing into his paint factory in Israel.

Farmer Yankele Cohen disagrees. Peering across his potato fields at Gaza's mosques and dormant factories, he argues that an imminent ceasefire, announced by Egyptian mediators on Tuesday, is premature and says Israel must cow Hamas with force.

"We are living a Russian roulette," the 73-year-old told reporters who were visiting the rocket-hit region on Monday with Israel's government spokesman.

"A truce will just be the silence before the storm."

The ceasefire is set to start on Thursday. But many analysts tend to concur with Israeli officials who say it may be short-lived and there is deep skepticism among people on both sides who believe a truce may only serve the short-term political interests of their enemies.

In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh heralded a "return to normal life". But ordinary Palestinians were caught between doubt that the truce would last and hopes a deal would end deadly Israeli air strikes and ease an Israeli-led blockade that has deepened hardship in the Hamas-run enclave.

"We are keen to have calm because we want things to improve," said Eyad al-Louh in the city of Gaza. But he was far from optimistic: "Maybe it will be quiet for a day or two but there will be no lasting calm."

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Cross-border rocket and mortar fire have killed three Israeli civilians this year. In the same period, more than 360 Palestinians in Gaza, over a third of them civilians, have died in air strikes and raids which Israel says target militants.

Six militants were killed in raids on Tuesday and Hamas's allies in Islamic Jihad launched rockets into Israel.

Israel has pursued Egyptian-brokered efforts to end the violence and ease the blockade, although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, enmeshed in a corruption scandal and facing domestic pressure for tougher action, has threatened to use more force.

By agreeing to a truce, Israel hopes to stem international criticism of its blockade of Gaza, while exerting pressure on Egypt to do more to stop arms smuggling into the territory.

A truce is also a public relations boost for Hamas, which is trying to curb discontent in Gaza since it seized control a year ago, and boost its international standing.

Many around the Israeli border town of Sderot and in the Gaza Strip, simply want the violence to stop.

Atzili, 64, points to the big dent in the side of a paint factory where he works at the Nir Oz kibbutz. A mortar fired from Gaza killed one of his workers here earlier this month.

"The best way is always sitting and talking," Atzili said at the factory, which lies a few hundred meters (yards) from the Gaza border, not far from the Palestinian town of Khan Younis.

"In war, there are no real winners."

Editing by Matthew Jones

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