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(Reuters) - An informal truce between Israel and Hamas that goes into effect on Thursday is meant to halt cross-border fighting as well as gradually and partially ease Israel's economic blockade of the Gaza Strip.
- The United States pressed for a truce to remove an obstacle in peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
- Israel wants to stem international criticism of its blockade strategy and fears a military push in Gaza would result in heavy casualties on both sides and may not end decisively.
- By insisting the economic blockade be eased only gradually and partially, Israel minimizes the immediate impact of the truce on the ground and maintains the flexibility to reimpose the sanctions later. Israel's phased approach reflects its skepticism the truce will last. The army has been instructed to prepare for a possible large-scale Gaza operation if the ceasefire collapses.
- The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt will remain closed for now. Israel has made its opening conditional on "significant" progress toward freeing captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
- Israel succeeded in getting Hamas to drop its long-standing demand that any ceasefire apply both to Gaza and to the occupied West Bank.
- Israel used the truce talks to increase pressure on Egypt to do more to stem arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip.
- The Islamist group needs supplies to stem discontent since it seized control of the Gaza Strip a year ago.
- Hamas, shunned by the West for refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel, hopes to gain international legitimacy. Israeli and U.S. officials, who refuse to talk directly to Hamas, agreed to indirect negotiations via Egypt.
- Avoiding a broad Israeli ground offensive would enable Hamas to continue to upgrade its weapons and train fighters.
- Caught off guard when Hamas militants blasted open the Rafah crossing with Egypt earlier this year, Cairo seeks stability along the border with the Gaza Strip.
- In a "cold peace" with Israel, Cairo wants to avoid public and Arab anger at its role in maintaining Gaza's cordon.
- Egypt is anxious to restrict Hamas contacts and mutual aid with Egypt's own Islamist opposition, the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
- Egypt feared Israel sought to cut ties to the Gaza Strip and was unwilling to be drawn into shouldering the economic burden for the territory it controlled between 1948 and 1967.
- Abbas and his government in the West Bank seek credit with voters in the Gaza Strip.
- Gaza violence could force Abbas to suspend peace talks with Israel, reducing the chances of a deal, and also cause unrest in the West Bank and jeopardize his U.S.-backed efforts to impose law and order in the area.
- Abbas seeks a measure of control over Gaza's border crossings as a way of reestablishing a foothold there.
- The United States and the European Union say they want to ease the hardships for Gazans on humanitarian grounds, as well as bolster Abbas and start restoring his authority in Gaza.
- The EU says it would be willing to return border monitors to Rafah, although it is unclear how soon that would happen.