Two sides close in on five-day truce
ANOTHER ROUND of escalation around Gaza appeared to have been averted at the last minute on Wednesday as negotiators in Cairo reportedly agreed to extend an expiring ceasefire until Monday night.
However, the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem had not confirmed the deal as the JC went to press, and rockets continued to be fired from Gaza.
Both Egypt and Israel have refused to open up the crossings into Gaza before the Fatah-dominated PA is prepared to take responsibility for inspecting goods taken over the border.
Hamas is still anxious to present the Palestinian public with a tangible achievement after failing to inflict significant damage on Israel in the last round of warfare. The fighting has cost Gaza a reported 1,900 deaths and thousands of destroyed buildings.
At the Cairo talks, being conducted by Egyptian intelligence officers with the Israeli and Palestinian delegations in separate rooms, Hamas has demand- ed that any agreement contain a clear statement on the end of the blockade of Gaza. However, while Egypt and Israel have agreed in principle to ease the restrictions on importing goods to Gaza and to allow the passage of people, they have refused to permit unrestricted movements of building mater i al s . While these materials are needed for rebuildi ng, I s r a e l i and Egyptian officials have insisted on an mechanism that will not allow Hamas to use them for military purposes.
Another substantial issue the two sides have failed to agree on is whether the body parts of two IDF soldiers killed during the operation, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, should be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners.
Israel proposed releasing Palestinians it detained in Gaza during the operation, but Hamas is also demand- ing the release of operatives arrested two months ago following the murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Failing to resolve these issues — as well as other demands by the Palestinians, such as building a seaport and an airport in Gaza — will jeopardise all future talks.
Last week, as a 72-hour ceasefire ran out on Thursday night, Palestinian organisations in Gaza resumed mortar and rocket fire on Israeli civilian targets. In retaliation, Israel carried out air-strikes against Hamas.
A new ceasefire was agreed on Sunday night but, as the talks in Cairo continued throughout the week, the IDF called up new reserve units to preserve its high level of readiness.
If and when when the negotiators reach a longer-term deal, both sides will find it hard to ratify. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only assured of the support of his defence minister Moshe Yaalon in cabinet. Even centrist minister Yair Lapid said on Wednesday that his vote in favour of an agreement “should not be taken for granted”.