Egypt pressed Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to extend a short-term cease-fire in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip while the United Nations appointed a commission to investigate possible human-rights violations.
The talks in Cairo yesterday moved ahead while a three-day truce survived its first 24 hours intact with no reports of rockets fired from Gaza or Israeli air strikes.
The cease-fire is intended to give both sides time to resolve long-standing issues. Israel wants Gaza demilitarized while Hamas is pressing to end a blockade Israel imposed in 2006, citing security concerns, and which Egypt joined. More than 1,900 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, have been killed in the monthlong conflict, according to Gaza health officials, and 67 people have died on the Israeli side.
“I do not see an end in sight right now,” said Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S., on a conference call with reporters. “It’s really going to be a matter of which side calls ‘uncle’ first.”
The UN Human Rights Council picked the members of a panel of inquiry for the Gaza conflict, naming William Schabas of Canada, an international law professor at Middlesex University in London, as chairman. He previously served on the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2002 to 2004, the UN council said in an e-mailed statement.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry condemned the choice in a text message, saying the commission is a “kangaroo court” and Schabas has a record of hostility to the country that “proves without a doubt that Israel can’t expect justice from a body like this.”
The other members are Amal Alamuddin, a British-Lebanese lawyer who previously worked at the International Court of Justice, and Doudou Diene of Senegal, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance from 2002 to 2008.
During the fighting in Gaza, UN-run schools were hit three times by shellfire, killing at least 26 people. In a statement on Aug. 3 UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called on those responsible for the “gross violation of international humanitarian law” to be held accountable. Israel has blamed poorly aimed or malfunctioning Hamas mortar fire or rockets for several such incidents in the past and says it takes care to limit civil casualties.
After Israel’s 2008-2009 offensive in Gaza, the UN conducted an investigation and accused Hamas and Israel of potential war crimes. The panel’s head, Richard Goldstone, later retracted one of the report’s conclusions that Israel deliberately targeted civilians.
The U.S. is working quietly to try to help achieve a cease-fire, a senior State Dept. official said on condition of anonymity, citing policy. Among the issues being discussed are expanded fishing rights for Palestinians, opening selected Gaza border passageways, and international aid, the official said. Ideally, the truce would lay the groundwork for resuming broader peace talks, the official said.
In Cairo, the Arab League urged Egypt to continue its efforts “to cement the cease-fire agreement into a lasting truce,” according to a statement posted by the Egyptian state-run Middle East News Agency.
Israel opened its military campaign in Gaza on July 8 with the stated aims of quashing rocket fire and destroying dozens of infiltration tunnels militants built to carry out cross-border raids. It says armed men account for 750 to 1,000 of the Palestinian dead and accuses Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way by operating within built-up areas and in and around schools, hospitals and mosques. The U.S. and the European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist group.
Among Hamas’s demands are a release of prisoners from Israeli jails, the easing of restrictions on Gaza border crossings and permission to operate a seaport on the territory’s Mediterranean coast.
Israel withdrew ground troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 after the sides agreed to an earlier truce.
Israel’s five-year credit default swaps rose last week to the highest since January. The benchmark TA-25 stock index, which has remained largely unaffected by the conflict, rose 0.3 percent yesterday. The shekel has hovered near a three-year high.