(ADDS COMMENTS HAMAS, MORE DETAILS, INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS)
Worthy News Staff
JERUSALEM/GAZA CITY (Worthy News) -- Militant group Hamas announced a "ceasefire" Sunday, January 18, giving Israeli troops a week to leave, hours after an Israeli ceasefire began.
"Hamas and the factions announce a ceasefire in Gaza starting immediately and give Israel a week to withdraw," said Ayman Taha, a Hamas official in Cairo for talks with Egypt on a truce deal, in published remarks.
However Hamas' demands for Israel to withdraw, within seven days, suggested the truce proposed by the group would be temporarily.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said late Saturday, January 17, that the military would only leave the Gaza Strip if Hamas is "ceasing" fighting, a reference to rocket attacks against Israel.
Just hours earlier, suspected Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip reportedly fired rockets into southern Israel in defiance of the unilateral ceasefire that Olmert declared l and which went into effect at 2 a.m. local time (0000 UTC) on Sunday, January 18.
MASSIVE ROCKET ATTACKS
The Israeli government says the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza in recent years prompted the latest 22-day offensive, in which Palestinian medics claim over 1,000 people died.
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, did not comment directly on the Hamas demands.
But he told the British Broadcasting Corporation that Israeli troops would be withdrawn from the Gaza Strip "in good time" if there was "a total halt to attacks by Hamas".
Following Israel's announcement,United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Israeli ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, but urged Israel to withdraw all of its troops. European leaders and Ban were to attend talks Sunday, January 18, in Egypt aimed at bolstering the ceasefire.
Iran said the ceasefire was not enough and that Israel's military must withdraw. Its Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the ceasefire announcement showed the "victory of the Islamic resistance and the heroic people of Gaza" against Israel, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.
Pope Benedict XVI, in what observers described as his strongest comments yet on the situation in Gaza, on Sunday, January 18, condemned the violence that he said had killed hundreds of "innocent victims".
However Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Hamas was responsible for the reported high death toll, as it was using civilians as "human shields."
International groups have also expressed concerns about the situation of Gaza's tiny Christian minority, who they say have been in crossfire between attacks by Israel and Islamic militants.
And, as far as in Pakistan, fellow believers have been praying for Christians in the Gaza Strip, while an international delegation of bishops visited Israel and the West Bank this week, calling for peace. (With reporting by Worthy News' George Whitten in Israel, Stefan J. Bos in Europe and Jawad Mazhar in Pakistan).