Israel and Gaza Strip militants started a five-day cease-fire amid disclosures that ties between Israeli and U.S. leaders had been strained by Israeli conduct during the monthlong conflict.
The extension of the truce early today until midnight Monday puts off for now the threat of a return to hostilities that killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and 67 people on the Israeli side. While rocket fire from Gaza at Israel late yesterday triggered Israeli air strikes and raised questions about whether the truce would hold, no violence has been reported since.
The five-day halt to hostilities is meant to give Israelis, Palestinians and their Egyptian mediators time to work out a more enduring accord resolving disputes that have fueled three major conflicts since 2008. Last night’s announcement of a truce extension by Palestinian Authority negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad didn’t indicate how far the sides were from reaching agreement on major points of contention.
Hamas has demanded an end to the blockade on Gaza that Israel imposed after the militant group won Palestinian elections in 2006. Israel has sought assurances that militants won’t resume their rocket attacks and cross-border raids. Senior Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzuk said today that no accord has been signed and the only agreement reached was to extend the cease-fire, according to the group’s Al-Rai news agency.
Israel withdrew ground troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 following a four-week offensive that it said was designed to end years of rocket fire and destroy tunnels militants built to infiltrate Israel. It estimates armed men account for 750 to 1,000 of the Palestinian dead and accuses Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way, in part by operating within built-up areas and in and around schools, hospitals and mosques.
Along with the U.S. and European Union, Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization.
Israel’s benchmark TA-25 stock index, which has remained largely unaffected by the conflict, rose 0.2 percent in Tel Aviv at 4:22 p.m. The shekel was up 0.3 percent against the dollar.
Relations between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, already worn by disputes over Iran and peacemaking with the Palestinians, have deteriorated further over the Gaza fighting, the Wall Street Journal reported today, citing unidentified American officials.
Missiles on Hold
The Obama administration held up a transfer of Hellfire missiles that Israel requested and instituted a new policy that will require White House and State Department approval of all munitions requests Israel makes to the Pentagon, the Journal said.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev had no comment on the report, which cited officials as saying they were “increasingly disturbed by what they saw as heavy-handed battlefield tactics that they believed risked a humanitarian catastrophe.”
In Washington, Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said the U.S. is taking “additional care” in handling arms shipments because of the Gaza conflict.
“We wanted to look at things a little bit harder,” she said, adding, “We thought Israel could do more to prevent civilian casualties.”
During the war, the U.S. agreed to provide additional ammunition to Israel in response to a request from its Defense Ministry, according to a Pentagon statement last month that didn’t provide details of the request. The Journal said Israel asked for a range of munitions, including 120-mm mortar shells and 40-mm illumination rounds. Congress also approved $225 million in emergency spending for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, in an e-mailed statement, called the frayed ties “a worrying trend and we cannot allow it to continue. Our relations with the United States are a strategic asset that must be maintained.” Noting the Iron Dome financing, Lapid added: “Sometimes we just need to say thank you and ensure that our important relations with the United States remain strong.”
Housing Minister Uri Ariel told Israel Radio that this “crisis of confidence” between the two countries was a “passing” matter and pointed out that previous Israeli prime ministers had clashed with the U.S. “Netanyahu’s foremost obligation is to the security of the citizens of Israel,” he said.