Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Terms of a truce

Palestinian factions in Gaza, led by Hamas, are pressing for a definitive end to Israel’s blockade and guarantees against future aggression before agreeing to a ceasefire, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

As planes flew overhead and shells reverberated, the inhabitants of Gaza scurried into makeshift shelters, but no peace deal is yet in sight.

Palestinian factions, led by Hamas, say they are ready for a deal, but on their own terms. To accept a ceasefire, they said, the deal must be made permanent and Israel should make pledges not to renew its attacks on Gaza. More importantly, the air, land and sea blockade on Gaza should end.

The Israelis, meanwhile, prefer to talk about the tunnels that the Palestinian dug through the boundaries of the Gaza Strip. It is to destroy these tunnels, the Israelis claim, that they had to wage a land incursion into Gaza.

Diplomatic efforts, in which the UN, the US and Egypt are said to be involved, have so far not met success, but with the death toll rising daily international calls for an immediate ceasefire are gaining momentum.

Since Israel started Operation Protective Edge on 7 July, the death toll in Gaza reached nearly 600, with a further 3,700 people injured in aerial bombardment and artillery shelling.

An Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire has been rejected by Hamas and several Palestinian factions, who said that any cessation of hostilities should be coupled with guarantees on Israel’s part.

On Thursday, 17 July, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered what was described as a “limited” ground assault to destroy tunnels used by Palestinian guerrilla fighters to wage attacks on Israel.

Since hostilities broke out, the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, proved itself to be a tougher adversary than Israel had thought, firing rockets deep into Israel, and sending missiles crashing as far north as Haifa, 130 kilometres north of Gaza.

Fighters from the Qassam Brigades also carried out infiltration operations into areas bordering the Gaza Strip, inflicting considerable losses on Israel’s army of occupation.

According to the Qassam Brigades, its fighters infiltrated behind enemy lines in the Sufa area, southeast of Gaza a week ago. The group added that its combatants also attacked an Israeli unit in the neighbourhood of Al-Tuffah, destroying two armoured personnel carriers and killing all 16 servicemen inside, including senior officers from the elite Golani Brigade.

The Qassam Brigades also said they captured an Israeli soldier by the name of Shaul Aron, a feat Israel immediately denied. In retaliation, the occupation forces committed a further massacre against civilians in Al-Shejayah district in Gaza, not far from Al-Tuffah district, where indiscriminate shelling left 76 dead and 400 others wounded.

Speaking in a press conference following the announcement of the death of Israeli soldiers, Netanyahu said “the pain is deep,” pledging to destroy the threat posed by the Gaza tunnels. The Israeli prime minister claimed that Israel didn’t choose war, but it was “thrust upon it”.

Blaming the Hamas movement for the killing of civilians in Gaza, Netanyahu said that the Palestinian movement rejected the Egyptian ceasefire initiative and was using civilians as human shields.

Most observers expect the land offensive to be limited, confined to destroying the tunnels dug under the boundaries of the Gaza Strip with Israel. Adnan Abu Amer, who specialises in Israeli affairs, said that Netanyahu made the decision to launch ground offensive after he came under intense criticism at home for “cowardliness”.

According to Abu Amer, the ground offensive may prove costly for Israel. The occupation authorities are aware of the perils that such offensive may entail in terms of casualties and possible capture of soldiers.

Israeli military experts admit that information about the location and shape of the tunnels, many of which have multiple exits, is not readily available. According to the newspaper Maariv, destroying the tunnels is not an easy task, as they constitute a virtual maze. Even if Israel manages to destroy a large number of tunnels, there will always be some left intact. Hamas, the paper added, spent nearly one fourth of its military budget on building and guarding the tunnels.

Most of the tunnels are also booby-trapped, which would pose a grave threat to Israeli soldiers. But Israel cannot leave the tunnels alone, the paper added, because they provide Hamas with an excellent opportunity to sneak into Israel to attack nearby villages, or capture soldiers.

The Israeli army said that its forces managed to uncover 34 tunnels last week, five of them exiting into Israeli areas bordering the strip. On Monday, Israel cited unnamed Egyptian officials as saying that Cairo is willing to reword its initiative to accommodate Hamas’s terms for a ceasefire.

Palestinian factions in Gaza said they will only agree to a ceasefire if Israel pledges to stop the current incursion, refrain from waging more incursions in the future, abandon the policy of targeted killings, end the blockade on Gaza, release prisoners it recently recaptured, allow the reopening of Gaza’s seaport, guarantee freedom of fishing and shipping in territorial waters, abolish all collective sanctions, free detained members of the Palestinian legislature, and return public and private property it seized.

Israel detained hundreds of Palestinians, including top Hamas legislators, last month in retaliation for the abduction and subsequent killing of three Israeli settlers. The deputy chairman of Hamas’s politburo, former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, said that, “Gaza decided to end its siege with its blood and resistance and steadfastness.”

Speaking in a televised address, Haniyeh said that the demands of the Palestinians were “clear and unaltered”, reiterating the need to end the blockade and allow Gaza to live a normal life. “The aggression must stop and must not be repeated in the future and the blockade under which our people have lived for eight years must end,” Haniyeh declared.

Accusing the world of insensitivity to the plight of the Palestinians, Haniyeh mentioned that “there are houses without drinking water for days, hospitals without medicine for days, land that cannot be tilled, crossing points that are closed, electricity that is cut off except for a few hours, and thousands of people who cannot find work.”

Khaled Meshaal, head of the Hamas politburo, said that his movement could not accept a ceasefire unless Israel agrees to lift the siege.

Interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, Meshaal said that any truce must ensure long-term political and economic advantages for the Palestinians.

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