Gaza Strip truce takes hold as negotiators stake out aims
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 ceasefire went into effect at midnight, the Israeli army reported.
Israeli negotiators, who left Cairo last week after an earlier truce broke down amid rocket fire, returned to talks in Cairo yesterday as Gaza militants refrained from attacks, an Israeli official said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his government would not negotiate under fire.
"We have already had a number of ceasefires 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. 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 demilitarised 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 month-long conflict, according to Gaza health officials, and 67 people have died on the Israeli side.
Among the issues being discussed are expanded fishing rights for Palestinians, opening selected Gaza border passageways and international aid, a US State Department official said. Ideally, the truce would lay the groundwork for trying to get back into broader peace talks, he added.
In Cairo, the Arab League issued a statement urging Egypt to continue its efforts "to cement the ceasefire agreement into a lasting truce".
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 minimise 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.
Israel opened its military campaign in Gaza on 8 July with the stated aims of quashing rocket fire and destroying dozens of infiltration tunnels militants built to carry out cross-border raids.
It has said armed men account for 750 to 1,000 of the Palestinian dead and have accused Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in harm's way by operating within built-up areas and in and around schools, hospitals and mosques.
The US and European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist group. Israel withdrew ground troops from Gaza on 5 August 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" said Kam, a retired Israeli army intelligence colonel.