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Hamas Agrees to Truce in Gaza as World Leaders Hold Talks

The EU on Sunday welcomed the unilateral ceasefire announced by Israel as Hamas leaders agreed to halt fighting for one week. Meanwhile, world leaders met in Egypt for talks on the crisis.

Israeli soldiers gesture as they return to Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, Sunday Jan. 18

Israel said it wouldn't pull troops out until Hamas stopped firing

Hamas said on Sunday it would cease fire immediately along with other militant groups in the Gaza Strip and give Israel, which already declared a unilateral truce, a week to pull its troops out of the territory.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said earlier that if a ceasefire held in the Hamas-ruled enclave, Israel could start the process of withdrawing its forces.

Hamas had previously said it would not stop its attacks as long as Israeli soldiers remained in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli had called a unilateral truce that went into effect at 00:00 GMT (2:00 am local time) Sunday morning.

EU hails truce, calls for peace

A smoke trail from a rocket fired by Palestinian militants inside the Gaza Strip is seen from the Israel side of the border with Gaza, Sunday, Jan. 18

Several rockets were fired into Israel Sunday morning

The move was welcomed by the European Union, which called for rapid distribution of humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip. It also appealed to Israel to open border crossings with the salient to help in the process.

"The priority now is to ensure that no more civilians die as a result of this conflict," read the statement from the European Union presidency, which is currently held by the Czech Republic.

The EU also said offered assistance in efforts to create an independent Palestinian state next to Israel.

In a separate statement, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the halt in violence was necessary to allow the EU and other donors to help the people in Gaza.

"Our priority is a permanent peace," she said, adding that she hoped that the crossings into Gaza would be opened again soon and that all Israeli soldiers would be withdrawn from the Gaza Strip.

First truce broken within hours

Just hours after the unilateral ceasefire declared by Israel took effect early, five rockets reportedly hit the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

Israeli troops also came under fire by a group of Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip, the Israeli army reported. The troops had informed Israeli armored units and air force, which then shot at and hit the Palestinians, said the spokeswoman.

Announcing the ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told journalists Saturday that Israel had achieved the aims it set for itself when launching its Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Dec. 27, and was therefore calling a halt to the fighting.

World leaders hold snap summit

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict called for peace and prayed for the victims on Sunday

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who had tried to mediate an end to the Gaza fighting, hosted a conference on the crisis later Sunday.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, are expected to attend the summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh.

No Israelis or Palestinians are expected at the talks. Merkel, Sarkozy and Zapatero have said they would travel to Israel after the meeting.

Israel launched its Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip following sustained rocket fire from the salient on southern Israeli towns and villages.

More than 1,200 Palestinians have been killed and over 5,100 injured since Israel began its military campaign. Three Israeli civilians and 10 soldiers have died since the operation began, and over 700 rockets have been fired from Gaza.

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