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Baird welcomes latest ceasefire, warns Israel will retaliate if Hamas breaks it

OTTAWA - Canada is cautiously welcoming an open-ended ceasefire announced between Israel and Hamas.

But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird took another opportunity to pounce on Hamas for its role in the suffering of the Palestinian people.

And Baird said he expected that Israel would once again launch counter-attacks if Hamas fired more rockets toward Israeli territory.

Israel and Gaza's ruling Hamas agreed to the Egypt-brokered ceasefire Tuesday, halting seven weeks of violence that has seen more than 2,200 people killed.

Hamas, however, said it would rearm itself, raising the spectre of more violence to come.

Baird urged Hamas to change course, and to disarm.

"Palestinians in Gaza have suffered greatly under Hamas's reign, and it is high time that their needs are put first over their rulers' blind ambition," Baird said in a statement.

"Further violence can be avoided if Hamas immediately lays down its arms and Gaza is demilitarized."

Israel appeared uncertain about how long the ceasefire would last, with a government spokesman saying "this time we hope the ceasefire will stick."

Hard line critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal failed to defuse the threat from Gaza militants.

As large crowds gathered in Gaza City to celebrate the truce, a senior Hamas leader promised to rebuild homes destroyed in the war — and said Hamas would stockpile more weapons, promising to prepare for a "battle of full liberation."

Baird said he expected Netanyahu's military to pounce, should the ceasefire fail.

"Israel will be forced to continue defending itself as long as Hamas continues its rocket attacks against civilians, and Hamas will be solely to blame for any further loss of life," he said, adding that Canada mourns the loss of life in Gaza and Israel since the conflict began.

Since July 8, Hamas and its allies have fired some 4,000 rockets and mortars at Israel, which responded with air strikes and a ground campaign.

Aside from the 2,143 Palestinians, 64 Israeli soldiers and five Israeli civilians counted as killed, it is estimated that nearly 11,000 people were injured in the war, while more than 100,000 have been left homeless.

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