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Gaza truce holds as region steps back from brink

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the offensive's aims of halting Gaza rocket fire and weakening Hamas were achieved. "I know there are citizens who were expecting a harsher response," he said, adding that Israel is prepared to act if the cease-fire is violated.

Despite the tough talk, the cease-fire raised hopes of a new era between Israel and Hamas. The two sides are now to negotiate a deal that would end years of Gaza rocket fire on Israel and open the borders of the blockaded Palestinian territory. Talks are supposed to begin sometime after a 24-hour period that began with the cease-fire late Wednesday.

However, the vague language in the agreement and deep hostility between the combatants made it far from certain that the bloodshed would end or that either side will get everything it wants. Israel seeks an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza, while Hamas wants a complete lifting of the border blockade imposed in 2007, after the Hamas takeover of Gaza.

Israel launched the offensive Nov. 14 to halt renewed rocket fire from Gaza, unleashing some 1,500 airstrikes on Hamas-linked targets, while Hamas and other Gaza militant groups showered Israel with just as many rockets.

The eight days of fighting killed 161 Palestinians, including 71 civilians, and five Israelis. Israel also destroyed key symbols of Hamas power, such as the prime minister's office, along with rocket launching sites and Gaza police stations.

In Gaza, the announcement of a truce late Wednesday set off frenzied street celebrations.

"Today is different, the morning coffee tastes different and I feel we are off to a new start," said Ashraf Diaa, a 38-year-old engineer from Gaza City.

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