Quantcast

Gaza war cease-fire holds as negotiators gather

Published August 11, 2014 8:48 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Gaza City, Gaza Strip • Israeli negotiators returned to Cairo on Monday to resume talks with Palestinians as a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip held throughout the morning.

After a brief flurry of cross-border rocket and artillery fire between Gaza and Israel minutes before the 72-hour truce began at midnight, there were no reported violations throughout the morning.

Residents of Gaza got up early to take advantage of the lull.

Fishermen took to their boats, and some motored out to sea to cast nets. There were even surfers playing in the waves. Lines formed quickly at banks and at stores selling bottles of cooking gas. Markets were packed.

Some Gazans said they feared that the cease-fire would not hold, that one side or the other would walk away from the negotiations in Cairo, frustrated that their terms were not being met.

The Israeli team arrived at midmorning in Cairo to resume the talks, which were suspended Friday when a previous cease-fire ended and militants in Gaza started firing upon Israel.

In the short term, Israel seeks peace and quiet and the cessation of the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza that has sent Israelis running for bomb shelters day after day. Ultimately, Israel wants the Gaza Strip to be demilitarized. And it would like to see the militant Islamist group Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip but which Israel and the United States brand a terrorist organization, replaced as the governing power in Gaza.

The agenda for talks includes the rebuilding of Gaza after a month of Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling destroyed thousands of homes and much of the enclave's infrastructure. The parties also are expected to talk about a possible prisoner release and about easing some of the restrictions that cramp daily life for many Gazans.

There appears to be a wide gap between what would be acceptable to Palestinian negotiators from Hamas and those from the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank.

To the thinking of Hamas, and many ordinary people here, Gaza deserves not punishment but something substantive for all the suffering and destruction the enclave has experienced, no matter who started the shooting.

But Israel does not seem to be in any mood to reward Hamas. And the Egyptians, led by a military-backed government that hates Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, may not press the Islamist movement's case.

According to an official in the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah, Palestinians want more Gazans to be permitted to leave the territory to visit the West Bank and Israel, under international monitoring.

The Palestinians also are pushing for more crossing points to reopen or have their hours extended.

Gazans have only two exit points. Before the conflict started a month ago, Israel allowed about 6,000 people a month to pass at the Erez crossing, mostly business people and medical patients. Egypt has also limited the passage of people at Rafah on its border with the Gaza Strip, where 40,000 used to go through every month.

After 12 hours had passed without a cease-fire violation, Israel reopened a crossing at Kerem Shalom, allowing goods to enter the Gaza Strip. Israel had closed it one day earlier due to rocket fire. But Israel has so far balked at meeting a Hamas demand that the crossing remain open daily and around the clock.

Negotiators from Gaza are taking a harder stance, saying that allowing more people to pass into or through Israel was not a sufficient concession.

"We insist on all our demands," said Khalid al-Batesh, a political leader in the Islamic Jihad movement who is in Cairo as part of the negotiating delegation. "Ending the siege. Ending the blockade. Opening all the crossing points and rebuilding Gaza."

"We didn't fight this war just so a few more businessmen and VIPs go through Erez crossing," he added.

Another sticking point revolves around the type of materials that must be imported into Gaza to rebuild. Israel will allow cement, despite its use in the past to build underground tunnels through which Hamas militants sneaked into Israel. But it will not allow material that could be used to build rockets, such as metal piping and propellants.

The two sides also are discussing extending the distance that fishermen will be allowed to go out to sea, now limited to three miles, and shrinking a buffer zone near the fence around Gaza.

In addition, Palestinian negotiators are seeking the release of hundreds of Hamas activists, politicians, religious leaders and former prisoners who were detained after the murder in June of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank. After the arrests, militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel, and Israel responded with airstrikes, then launched its offensive, dubbed "Operation Protective Edge."