Israeli-Hamas ceasefire takes hold
GAZA, Gaza Strip—Israel said it withdrew the last of its ground forces from Gaza today as it and Hamas began a temporary cease-fire.
The calm sets the stage for talks in Egypt on a broader deal for a long-term truce and the rebuilding of the battered, blockaded coastal territory.
The shelling stopped and in Gaza City, where streets had been deserted during the war, traffic picked up and shops started opening.
If the calm holds, it would be the longest lull in almost a month of fighting that has killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.
In coming days, Egyptian mediators plan to shuttle between Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo to try to work out new arrangements for Gaza.
As details of the Palestinian demands emerged, there were some signs that Hamas is willing to give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a role in Gaza as part of rebuilding efforts.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’ Palestinian Authority in 2007, prompting the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the territory.
Abbas’ return presumably would aim to reassure Israel and Egypt, allowing an easing of the closure.
The Palestinian delegation in Cairo presented a joint list of demands to Egypt, said Hana Amireh, a West Bank-based PLO official who is in touch with the delegation.
The demands include a call for internationally-funded reconstruction that would be overseen by an Abbas-led government that was formed in a unity deal with Hamas right before the war.
The delegation is led by one of Abbas’ confidants, but includes members of Hamas and other factions.
Efforts are underway to arrange a pledging conference of donor countries in Norway at the beginning of September, Mohammed Mustafa, the West Bank-based deputy prime minister of the technocrat government, told The Associated Press.
A three-member Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo this evening, according to an airport official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The situation on the ground remains volatile, however, and any cease-fire violation quickly could derail the Cairo talks.
Gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions are wide, and it’s not clear how much can be achieved.
Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior official in Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said Israel is willing to discuss an easing of Gaza border restrictions, but needs guarantees that Hamas will not be able to re-arm.
He said the international community “can have a role in securing the security arrangements that are going to be agreed upon in Gaza,” including preventing the entry of goods that could be diverted by Hamas for military purposes.
Israel is concerned that Hamas would be able to restock its military arsenal if the borders are opened.
Over the years, Hamas has smuggled rockets and other weapons into Gaza through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.
The flow only halted after a new government in Egypt took over a year ago and destroyed the tunnels.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly has raised the idea in recent days of disarming Hamas, with the help of the international community.
Hamas is deeply-rooted in Gaza and still has thousands of armed men under its command.