Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1206, (17-23 July 2014)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1206, (17-23 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Hand in hand

The Egyptian initiative came to crown two weeks of consultation and pave the way toward a ceasefire, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Following consultations with Palestinian leaders and different factions and with Israeli officials, Egypt called on Monday for an immediate ceasefire to the bombardment of Gaza. The Egyptian initiative demands the cessation of all land, sea and air attacks and an end to all bloodshed according to a statement issued by the foreign ministry late on Monday.

The Palestinian Authority and Israel accepted the initiative on Tuesday morning. However, Hamas said it was never officially approached to participate in a ceasefire agreement put forward by Egypt. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters: “Hamas has not received, until now, any initiatives from any party.” He dismissed reports of disarmament, saying that due to the Israeli occupation, the resistance by all means is a legitimate right of the Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the initiative and called on all sides to accept the proposal.

The Israeli Cabinet accepted the proposal and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was ordered to “suspend strikes in Gaza”, adding: “If Hamas fires at Israel, we will respond with force.”

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Badr Abdel-Atti, when asked for a response to Hamas’ claim, pointed out that the initiative was made public on Monday night after nearly two weeks of contact with “all sides” and stressed that it refers to all “Palestinian factions”.

Abdel-Atti added that the ministry was “still waiting” for an official response from “different Palestinian factions” with regards to a ceasefire initiative.

The Arab League, which held a meeting for Arab foreign minister on Monday, welcomed the Cairo initiative that is designed to protect the lives of the innocent.

United States President Barack Obama welcomed the intiative, expressing hope that it can: “ restore a calm that we’ve been seeking.”

The Egyptian deal proposes a full ceasefire to come into effect 12 hours after the start of “de-escalation”, which should be followed within 48 hours by separate talks between the two parties and neutral mediators on terms for an agreement.

Previous military confrontations between Israel and Hamas — Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012, and Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 – ended in ceasefire and negotiated agreements that eventually broke down.

   The initiative came after Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri met with his Palestinian counterpart Riad Al-Maliki in Cairo.

Shukri and Al-Maliki discussed ways to halt Israeli attacks against Gaza and coordination of their positions ahead of the foreign ministers meeting held at the Arab League later the same day.

Shukri also received a call from US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the crisis in Gaza. Abdel-Atti said the two officials discussed Egyptian efforts to end Israel’s military aggression and halt the exaggerated and unjustified use of force. “Egypt also aims to reach a cease fire agreement to stop the bloodshed,” he said in a statement issued by the ministry Monday morning.

The diplomatic flurry met with a mixed reaction from the public.

“Egypt should not help Hamas which is conspiring against Egypt and launching terrorist attacks against its people,” says Ali, a taxi driver.

Akram, a civil servant, insists Egypt must draw a line between Hamas, the terrorist organisation, and Palestinian civilians who are suffering. “What is needed is humanitarian aid,” he says.

Alaaeddin Saleh, an engineer, believes Egypt is not being assertive enough.

“Every couple of years Israel hits Gaza, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured. We need to reach a solution that stops Israel from doing this. We need more conclusive diplomacy capable of reaching a permanent solution rather than a truce that lasts for a year or two.”

Egypt remains one of very few countries capable of putting pressure on Hamas, says a diplomat who asked for his name to be withheld.

“People may argue that the present regime has strained relations with Hamas because of the toppling of the Brotherhood. But Egypt nieghbours Gaza and controls Rafah — the only border crossing not into Israel. There are also the tunnels that are Gaza’s lifeline because of Israel’s land and sea blockades,” he said.

Egypt, which has a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, has played a key role in mediating ceasefires between the Israel and Hamas.

In the hope of ending the present offensive President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met with Quartet envoy Tony Blair this week. In a statement earlier Saturday an Egyptian presidential spokesman said Al-Sisi was “in close contact with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to halt the violence and military operations that stem from stubbornness and intransigence”.

The spokesman added that the Blair meeting was to “review the latest events on the ground” in Gaza and the West Bank.

Blair called Shukri twice this week to discuss the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the steps that need to be taken by both Israel and Hamas to avoid falling in a vicious circle of violence.

Shukri also received calls from his Canadian, British, French and Dutch counterparts.

The foreign ministry issued a statement earlier this week appealing to the international community to “shoulder its responsibility to re-impose the truce concluded in November 2012 and immediately stop the Israeli aggression in order to avoid the deaths of more victims”.

Meanwhile, around 100 Egyptians held a protest in central Cairo on Sunday against Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip and criticising the government’s efforts to halt the violence.

Demonstrators walked behind a large banner that read, “End the illegal blockade of Gaza,” and chanted against normalisation.

Palestinian sources in Gaza said at least 170 civilians, including women and children, had been killed in the aerial bombardments that Israel began nine days ago. More than 1000 Palestinians were injured.

Humanitarian aid has been struggling to ease the impact of the aggression on the Palestinians.

The Egyptian Army sent a second shipment of humanitarian aid to Gaza through Rafah crossing on Sunday. Five cargos totalling 100 tons of food were handed to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Arish Airport in Sinai is scheduled to receive the first UAE airlift of food and medicines to the people of Gaza. The Emirati humanitarian aid will be unloaded at the airport and then transported to Gaza under the supervision of the Egyptian Red Crescent.

Egypt opened the Rafah crossing for 12 hours Thursday to allow injured Palestinians to cross to hospitals in Arish and Cairo. It opened it again on Saturday to admit Gazans needing medical treatment.

Palestinians are appealing to the Egyptian authorities to admit yet more injured Palestinians to Egyptian hospitals. There is a severe lack of the medical facilities in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli raids on Gaza began on 1 July, a day after Israel found the bodies of three kidnapped settlers in the West Bank. The body of Palestinian Mohamed Khodeir, 16, was subsequently found mutilated and burned in what is widely seen as a revenge killing for the deaths of the Israelis.

Israel has not ruled out the possibility of a ground attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will not bow to international pressure to halt the military operation and 30,000 reservists have been mobilised.

A statement issued Saturday approved by all 15 members of the UN Security Council called for the de-escalation of violence, restoration of calm and the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel has said it will end its assault only when Hamas ceases its rocket fire. Hamas has pledged to continue the fight.

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