Trying Yet Again: A Monday Ceasefire with Hamas, and Israeli Troops Stay Outside Gaza — a Surprise Flourish Tried to End the Mini-War

On Sunday evening (10 August) in the Middle East, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to start another ceasefire in Gaza. The Israelis had refused to send a team to the indirect talks in Cairo — brokered by Egypt (with, it is believed, strong American guidance) — as Israel declared it would not “negotiate under fire.”

Now, if this ceasefire starting Monday morning (at midnight) holds, Israel is expected to send negotiators to Cairo. But will Israel agree to open Gaza’s borders (“lift the siege,” as the Palestinians put it)? Israel and Egypt, citing security concerns, both reject the Hamas demand that Gaza have an independently run seaport and airport.

Some European governments, offering to help, have suggested they might oversee a “sea bridge” that would have supply vessels sailing between Cyprus and Gaza. This, in the European view, would relieve the “prison-like” situation that Gaza has been in since Hamas’s takeover in 2007 (two years after Israeli troops and settlers ended a 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip).

Israel’s political and military leaders had sprung a surprise on Tuesday morning (5 August): announcing that by 8 a.m. local time, all Israeli troops would be pulled out of Gaza.  “They will take up positions on our side of the border,” a senior IDF source told a limited number of reporters that morning.  “The soldiers have a good feeling about the campaign.  We destroyed all 32 tunnels that we discovered.  And we acted according to international norms.  There’s plenty of proof of that.”

Netanyahu: Trying to End the Mini-War (photo from BBC April 2013)

Netanyahu: Trying to End the Mini-War (photo from BBC April 2013)

“It’s easy to start a war, but it’s not easy to end one.”  Israeli leaders heard pundits issue that kind of warning, in mid-July, when they sent the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) into Gaza — and now they’ve decided to pull them all out.  This is, practically, a “Mission Accomplished” announcement by Israel.

On Monday night (4 August), Israel and Hamas — though never directly in touch with each other — agreed to accept the latest proposal by Egypt’s government for a 72-hour ceasefire starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Negotiations in Cairo took place, but with a lack of progress Hamas ended the ceasefire on Friday morning by firing rockets into Israel. Israel’s air force and artillery pounded back.

The previous Friday (1 August) a similar arrangement was attempted — but that ceasefire was shattered within 90 minutes when team of Hamas attackers popped out of one of their secretly dug tunnels and ambushed Israeli troops.  Two soldiers were killed immediately, and a third — at first described as a kidnap victim — was later declared dead by the IDF’s chief rabbi (and an investigation panel).

Israel then pounded Palestinian positions and neighborhoods — killing, according to Arab media, several hundred people as apparent revenge for the attack that ruined the August 1st ceasefire.

There still is a definite possibility that the newest ceasefire will break down, and the violence could return. Much will depend on the outcome of the indirect talks in Cairo.

August 10, 2014

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