Israel arrests 55 suspected Palestinian militants in West Bank after truce

Published: Updated:
Israeli forces seized 55 suspected Palestinian militants in the West Bank on Thursday, the army said, citing a need to quell the occupied territory after a truce ended eight days of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

The detainees were from various armed Palestinian factions and included “senior operatives,” Reuters reported the army saying in a statement, adding that it would “continue to maintain order ... and prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Israeli communities.”

The West Bank is under the sway of U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but many of its residents are sympathetic with his Islamist Hamas rivals who govern Gaza and reject any permanent peace with the Jewish state.

Israel launched an air offensive against Hamas and other Gaza factions on Nov. 14 with the declared aim of stopping their cross-border rocket attacks.

The sides entered an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on Wednesday night.

During the clashes, two Palestinians were shot dead during anti-Israel demonstrations in the West Bank that turned into confrontations with the army.

A Tel Aviv bus bomb that wounded 15 people on Wednesday raised the possibility that Palestinians had come in from the nearby West Bank to carry out the attack.

The ceasefire

Meanwhile, the ceasefire took hold Thursday in and around Gaza after a week of cross-border violence between Israel and Palestinian militants that killed at least 160 people.

Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr of Egypt, which brokered the ceasefire after marathon talks, announced the cessation of hostilities at a joint news conference in Cairo with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday.

The U.N. Security Council urged Israel and Hamas to uphold the ceasefire while joining with U.S. President Barack Obama in praising Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi for mediating an end to the violence.

The accord, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, calls on Israel to “stop all hostilities... in the land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals” and urges the Palestinian factions to end “rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.”

Israel would be obliged to ease restrictions on Gaza residents under the accord which specified that “procedures of implementation shall be dealt with” 24 hours after the ceasefire went into effect on opening Gaza’s border crossings and allowing the free movement of people and goods.

“This is a critical moment for the region,” Clinton said. “In the days ahead, the United States will work with partners in the region to consolidate this progress.”

After a day of violence that killed another 18 Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said he was prepared to give peace a chance.

“Netanyahu spoke with President Barack Obama and agreed to his recommendation to give a chance to an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire and thereby give an opportunity for the stabilization of the situation and a calming of it,” said a statement.

Obama commended Netanyahu for agreeing to the ceasefire proposal while “reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself,” the White House said.

Gaza City’s streets were dark and deserted in the minutes after the truce took effect at 1900 GMT Wednesday, but soon afterwards people poured out of their homes to hail the “victory” as the ceasefire appeared to hold.

Heavy celebratory gunfire could be heard throughout the Gaza Strip and fireworks were released into the sky, where Israeli drones still buzzed overhead.

“The resistance has triumphed,” some shouted, alongside chants of “Allahu akbar (God is greatest).”

After urging the two sides to uphold the accord, the 15-member U.N. Security Council also called in a statement for an international effort to get “emergency aid” into Gaza.

There had to be “expeditious and unimpeded delivery of such humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment,” said the statement.

The conflict came as Israel heads towards a general election in January, and raised the specter of a broader military campaign along the lines of the Jewish state’s devastating 22-day operation launched at the end of December 2008.