Israel, Palestinians Observe New Truce as Accord SoughtCalev Ben-David and Saud Abu Ramadan
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators staked out positions for a long-term agreement on the Gaza Strip as a new Egyptian-brokered truce offered a respite to a month of violence in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Palestinian envoys attending truce talks in Cairo agreed yesterday to Egypt’s proposal for 72 hours of quiet. There were no rockets fired from Gaza or Israeli air strikes on the territory since the cease-fire went into effect at midnight, the Israeli army said.
Israeli negotiators, who left Cairo last week after an earlier truce broke down amid rocket fire, returned to talks in Cairo today as Gaza militants refrained from attacks, an Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment publicly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his government will not negotiate under fire.
“We have already had a number of cease-fires that weren’t extended, that were broken by Hamas before they expired, so we have to be very cautious,” Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz said on Israel Radio. Hamas also has accused Israel of violating previous truces.
The truce is meant to give the sides time to reach a long-term accord addressing issues unresolved after two earlier military confrontations since 2008. 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.
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 trying to get back into 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.
Talal Okal, a Gaza-based political analyst, predicted Israel would “try to drag out the talks as long as possible, to have quiet without making concessions and forcing Hamas to minimize its demands.” Israel’s insistence on disarming Hamas and other militant groups “will not be accepted in Gaza, unless there is agreement for some international force that will come and protect the people here from Israeli aggression,” he said by phone.
A press group representing foreign journalists working in Gaza lodged a formal complaint with Hamas for harassing and threatening reporters. It protested “the blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas authorities and their representatives against visiting international journalists in Gaza over the past month,” according to an e-mail from the Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association.
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 European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist group.
Israel withdrew ground troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 after the sides agreed to the earlier truce.
A more enduring accord that eases the Gaza blockade may hinge on allowing the Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, to take control of border crossings, said Ephraim Kam, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.
“Unless Egypt exerts pressure on Hamas to agree to giving Abbas a major role in controlling the borders, it’s going to be difficult to reach any sort of compromise,” said Kam, who is a retired Israeli army intelligence colonel.
The blockades have confined most Gazans to the impoverished enclave of 1.8 million people and crippled their economy by restricting the movement of goods.
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, was up 0.3 percent as of the close in Tel Aviv today. The shekel has hovered near a three-year high.
Separately, a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli forces overnight during an arrest raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, the official Palestinian Wafa news agency reported. The Israeli army said the man was wanted in connection with an attack on Israeli troops and was shot after opening fire on Israeli forces.