Gaza ceasefire holds but mistrust runs deep

GAZA/JERUSALEM Fri Nov 23, 2012 2:06pm EST

1 of 13. A Palestinian looks at Israeli soldiers as they stand guard behind the fence between Israel and southern Gaza Strip November 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/ Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

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GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas held firm on Thursday with scenes of joy among the ruins in Gaza over what Palestinians hailed as a victory, and both sides saying their fingers were still on the trigger.

In the sudden calm, Palestinians who had been under Israeli bombs for eight days poured into Gaza streets for a celebratory rally, walking past wrecked houses and government buildings.

But as a precaution, schools stayed closed in southern Israel, where nerves were jangled by warning sirens - a false alarm, the army said - after a constant rain of rockets during the most serious Israeli-Palestinian fighting in four years.

Israel had launched its strikes last week with a declared aim of ending rocket attacks on its territory from Gaza, ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas, which denies Israel's right to exist. Hamas had responded with more rockets.

The truce brokered by Egypt's new Islamist leaders, working with the United States, headed off an Israeli invasion of Gaza.

It was the fruit of intensive diplomacy spurred by U.S. President Barack Obama, who sent his secretary of state to Cairo and backed her up with phone calls to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi.

Mursi's role in cajoling his Islamist soulmates in Gaza into the U.S.-backed deal with Israel suggested that Washington can find ways to cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood leader whom Egyptians elected after toppling former U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, a bulwark of American policy in the Middle East for 30 years.

Mursi, preoccupied with Egypt's economic crisis, cannot afford to tamper with a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, despite its unpopularity with Egyptians, and needs U.S. financial aid.


Despite the quiet on the battlefield, the death toll from the Gaza conflict crept up on both sides.

The body of Mohammed al-Dalu, 25, was recovered from the rubble of a house where nine of his relatives - four children and five women - were killed by an Israeli bomb this week.

That raised to 163 the number of Palestinians killed, more than half of them civilians, including 37 children, during the Israeli onslaught, according to Gaza medical officials.

Nearly 1,400 rockets struck Israel, killing four civilians and two soldiers, including an officer who died on Thursday of wounds sustained the day before, the Israeli army said.

Israel dropped 1,000 times as much explosive on the Gaza Strip as landed on its soil, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

Municipal workers in Gaza began cleaning streets and removing the rubble of bombed buildings. Stores opened and people flocked to markets to buy food.

Jubilant crowds celebrated, with most people waving green Hamas flags but some carrying the yellow emblems of the rival Fatah group, led by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.

That marked a rare show of unity five years after Hamas, which won a Palestinian poll in 2006, forcibly wrested Gaza from Fatah, still dominant in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel began ferrying tanks northwards, away from the border, on transporters. It plans to discharge gradually tens of thousands of reservists called up for a possible Gaza invasion.

But trust between Israel and Hamas remains in short supply and both said they might well have to fight again.

"The battle with the enemy has not ended yet," Abu Ubaida, spokesman of Hamas's armed wing Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades, said at an event to mourn its acting military chief Ahmed al-Jaabari, whose killing by Israel on November 14 set off this round.


The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said in Cairo his Islamist movement would respect the truce, but warned that if Israel violated it "our hands are on the trigger".

Netanyahu said he had agreed to "exhaust this opportunity for an extended truce", but told Israelis a tougher approach might be required in the future.

Facing a national election in two months, he swiftly came under fire from opposition politicians who had rallied to his side during the fighting but now contend he emerged from the conflict with no real gains for Israel.

"You don't settle with terrorism, you defeat it. And unfortunately, a decisive victory has not been achieved and we did not recharge our deterrence," Shaul Mofaz, leader of the main opposition Kadima party, wrote on his Facebook page.

In a speech, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, urged all Palestinian factions to respect the ceasefire and said his government and security services would monitor compliance.

According to a text of the agreement seen by Reuters, both sides should halt all hostilities, with Israel desisting from incursions and targeting of individuals, while all Palestinian factions should cease rocket fire and cross-border attacks.

The deal also provides for easing Israeli curbs on Gaza's residents, but the two sides disagreed on what this meant.

Israeli sources said Israel would not lift a blockade of the enclave it enforced after Hamas won a Palestinian election in 2006, but Meshaal said the deal covered the opening of all of the territory's border crossings with Israel and Egypt.

Israel let dozens of trucks carry supplies into the Palestinian enclave during the fighting. Residents there have long complained that Israeli restrictions blight their economy.

Barak said Hamas, which declared November 22 a national holiday to mark its "victory", had suffered heavy military blows.

"A large part of the mid-range rockets were destroyed. Hamas managed to hit Israel's built-up areas with around a metric tone of explosives, and Gaza targets got around 1,000 metric tonnes," he said.

He dismissed a ceasefire text published by Hamas, saying: "The right to self-defense trumps any piece of paper."

He appeared to confirm, however, a Hamas claim that the Israelis would no longer enforce a no-go zone on the Gaza side of the frontier that the army says has prevented Hamas raids.

(Additional reporting by Noah Browning in Gaza, Ori Lewis, Crispian Balmer and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Alistair Lyon; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Comments (4)
War crime charges worry Israel’s government

The Palestinian Authority’s bid to be accorded Non-Member status of the United Nations, scheduled for November 29th., needs a minimum of 97 votes in the General Assembly, which it is likely to achieve without problem. And this is why Israel’s leaders are worried because they know that they could then be liable to face war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

More than 1000 civilians were killed in Gaza by the Israeli Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, a figure that included more than 300 children under the age of 16. A UN Fact Finding Mission report subsequently alleged that Israel had committed war crimes against the civilian population.

In a desperate attempt to avoid the possibility of being indicted and brought before the Court to answer such charges, the Israeli government has threatened to withhold tax revenues for the PA, if it should proceed with the UN vote.

This last seven days, Israel has killed 162 Palestinians in Gaza and injured hundreds more, again mostly civilians, in a perceived attempt to bolster the current Israeli government’s re-election on January 22nd – assuming that individuals are not by then standing trial at the ICC, in The Hague, to answer war crimes charges.

Israel is today reported by the BBC to have lost 6 civilians in the latest conflict i.e. 96.3% less than the total of those killed by the IAF in Gaza.

Nov 23, 2012 6:06am EST  --  Report as abuse
Jimmy1234 wrote:
It is beyond war crime by Israeli.According to interviews with women in the United States, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli border officials periodically force Christian and Muslim females of all ages to remove their clothing and submit to searches. In some cases the children are then “felt” by Israeli officials.

Sometimes mothers and children are strip-searched together, at other times little girls are taken from their parents and strip-searched alone. Women are required to remove sanitary napkins, sometimes with small daughters at their side. Sometimes women are strip searched in the presence of their young sons.
Oregon attorney Hala Gores remembers being strip-searched at the age of 10. Her family, Palestinian Christians from Nazareth, were leaving Israel because of Israeli discrimination against Christians. Gores has never returned to her family’s ancestral home in Nazareth, she says, in part because she does not want to repeat the experience of having no control over what is done to her.
The Israeli policy appears to target only Christian and Muslim children, and is equally applied to those with Israeli citizenship and citizenship in other countries, including native-born Americans. There are no reports of Jewish children being strip-searched.

New Jersey stand-up comedian Maysoon Zayid describes being strip-searched at Ben Gurion Airport when she was “seven, eight, nine years old” on family trips to visit her parents’ original home in Palestine. On her most recent trip in July 2006, Maysoon, an American citizen, had her sanitary pad taken by officials in Ben Gurion Airport. When the search was completed, she says, the Israeli official in charge, Inbal Sharon, then refused to return her pad or allow her to get another.
St. Louis resident Hedy Epstein, whose parents and extended family perished in Nazi camps, and whose story is featured in the Academy Award winning documentary “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport,” reports being strip searched three years ago following her participation in nonviolent protests in the West Bank. Epstein, who was 79 at the time, describes being forced to bend over for an Israeli official to search her internally.
The strip searches appear to be illegal under numerous statutes. The Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a signatory, prohibit: “Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” and specifically emphasize: “Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour…”
“We are extremely upset to learn that Israel is using American tax money in ways that degrade and humiliate women and children,” says CNI President Eugene Bird. “We call on all Americans to help us..

Nov 23, 2012 11:25am EST  --  Report as abuse
MS69 wrote:
The relative number of deaths is not a measure of moral superiority. For example, was the US less moral than the Germans in WWII? After all there were a lot more Germans killed by Americans than the reverse!
You do not face the real issue. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right exist and is working to destroy it, patentiently and over time. You superficial comments reflect the deisre for a simple solution. Just make the problem go away. Unless you face the real problem, it never gets solved.

Nov 23, 2012 1:38pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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