Thursday 23 January 2020

Gaza truce holds as talks resume

Clouds above Gaza City after Israel and militant group Hamas accepted an Egyptian ceasefire proposal (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Clouds above Gaza City after Israel and militant group Hamas accepted an Egyptian ceasefire proposal (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire halting the Gaza war was holding today, allowing Palestinians to leave their homes and shelters as negotiators agreed to resume talks in Cairo.

The truce took effect just after midnight (2101 GMT), preceded by heavy rocket fire towards Israel.

In Cairo, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said the ceasefire would allow humanitarian aid into battered areas of Gaza and the reopening of indirect talks on a more lasting and comprehensive deal.

This morning, high school students in Gaza filled the streets as they headed off to pick up their graduation certificates after the Education Ministry said they would be ready.

People waited to buy fuel for generators as power and communication workers struggled to fix cables damaged in the fighting. Long queues formed at cash machines.

In Cairo, negotiators said talks would resume at 11am (0800 GMT). The four-member Israeli delegation arrived at Cairo International Airport earlier.

The month-long war, pitting the Israeli military against rocket-firing Hamas militants, has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, Palestinian and UN officials say. In Israel, 67 people have been killed, all but three of them soldiers, officials there say.

The fighting ended in a three-day ceasefire last Tuesday. Egypt had hoped to use that truce to mediate a long-term deal but, when it expired, militants resumed their rocket fire, sparking Israeli reprisals. The violence continued throughout the weekend, including a burst of fighting late yesterday ahead of the expected ceasefire.

Last week's talks failed partly because Israel rejected Hamas's demand for a complete end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, enforced by Egypt and Israel. Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent arms smuggling, and officials do not want to make any concessions that would allow Hamas to declare victory.

The blockade has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the impoverished territory of 1.8 million people for jobs and schooling. It has also limited the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports. Unemployment there is more than 50%.

Bassam Salhi, a Palestinian delegation member, said he was optimistic ahead of today's talks.

"We hope to reach a deal within the 72 hours, based on ending the blockade and opening the crossings," he said.

Israeli officials had walked away from negotiations over continued fire from Gaza.

"Israel will not negotiate under fire," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday, warning that his country's military campaign "will take time".

The current Gaza war escalated from the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June. Israel blamed the killings on Hamas and launched a massive arrest campaign, rounding up hundreds of its members in the West Bank. Hamas and other militants unleashed rocket fire from Gaza.

PA Media

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