Israel announces 7-hour cease-fire as diplomatic efforts falters

Photographer: Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images
An Israeli soldier walks past Merkava tanks positioned on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza, on August 3, 2014.

Israel announced a seven-hour cease-fire for much of Gaza after renewed violence yesterday, including the shelling of a United Nations shelter, tripped up diplomatic efforts to end four weeks of conflict.

The “humanitarian window” will apply from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time in all areas of Gaza except those where the Israel Defense Forces are currently operating, the IDF said in an e-mailed statement.

“The IDF will respond to any attempt to exploit this window to harm Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers,” then IDF said in the statement.

Israeli troops were redeployed yesterday across Gaza as Israeli artillery and planes pounded targets in the south. Ten Palestinians died near a United Nations shelter after the army fired on three militants from the Islamic Jihad, prompting international condemnation.

“It doesn’t look like we’re anywhere close to ending this cycle of violence,” said Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba. “There are a lot of players, including Hamas, the U.S., the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, and nobody sees eye-to-eye with Israel.”

Demolishing Tunnels

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the nation Aug. 2 that the offensive would continue until Israel reaches its goals of stopping rocket fire, demolishing tunnels built by militants to infiltrate Israel, and assuring quiet for its citizens living on Gaza’s border. For the first time since the operation began July 8, though, Netanyahu hinted at a retrenchment, saying troops would be realigned “to minimize frictions.”

Photographer: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

A Palestinian girl sits and eats in her damaged home following an overnight Israeli… Read More

A military spokesman, speaking anonymously in line with regulations, had no further details on the scope of the troop redeployment. Another military official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the destruction of tunnels built by militants to infiltrate Israel — the Jewish state’s stated reason for embarking on a ground war — was expected to be completed within a day.

Israel’s TA-25 benchmark closed little changed at 1,392.98 in Tel Aviv yesterday.

Looking beyond the fighting, Netanyahu urged the international community to link the reconstruction of Gaza, which has withstood thousands of Israeli air, ground and naval strikes, to the territory’s demilitarization.

Deadliest Conflict

The offensive has been the deadliest in Gaza since Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from the territory in 2005. More than 1,800 Palestinians have died, including 400 children, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qedra. Israel has lost three civilians and 64 soldiers.

The air strike that killed 10 Palestinians at a school being used by the UN to shelter displaced Gazans drew censure from senior UN and U.S. officials.

The Israeli military said in a text message it had targeted three members of Islamic Jihad on a motorcycle “in the vicinity” of the UN Relief and Works Agency facility in the southern city of Rafah, and “is reviewing the consequences of this strike.” It was the third deadly assault on a facility belonging to the UN agency.

‘Shock, Disbelief’

“This is of course another incident that generates both shock and disbelief at the fact that it can happen again,” Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner-general of the UN agency, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program yesterday. The school was providing refuge to about 3,000 Palestinians, and in all the UN is sheltering about 250,000 displaced people in about 90 school buildings in Gaza, he said.

Krahenbuhl said the UN has discovered weapons caches in its schools three times and disclosed them “in a very proactive and transparent way.” He said the UN condemns any efforts by militants to store weapons in its facilities, while urging Israel to refrain from more attacks against shelters.

The U.S. government was “appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling,” Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.

Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, considers Hamas and Islamic Jihad to be terrorist groups. Israeli army commanders say Hamas and other Gaza militant groups expose large numbers of civilians to casualties by locating weapons, rocket launchers and other facilities in areas such as homes and mosques.

Gaza Blockade

“It is simply intolerable that another school has come under fire while designated to provide shelter for civilians fleeing the hostilities,” the UN’s Mideast envoy, Robert Serry, said in an e-mailed statement.

He called for a truce and negotiations to address underlying issues. Those include the proliferation of arms in Gaza and Hamas’s demand to end a blockade of the territory that Israel, citing security concerns, initiated in 2006 and Egypt joined.

The more than 4,000 Israeli military assaults have rendered at least 10,000 Gaza homes uninhabitable, according to Palestinian rights group Al-Mizan. Schools, medical centers, mosques, parks, a power station and water and sewage facilities have also been hit.

Linkage Questioned

After a cease-fire, Israel may be more supportive of an international investment plan for Gaza in the context of extending the control of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority there, according to a report on a workshop led by conflict resolution consultants International Crisis Group and The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

Israel’s linkage of Gaza’s economic development to disarming the territory probably won’t yield results because Hamas is unlikely to accept it, according to the report released July 31. “Alternative suggestions include steps that will curb Hamas’s freedom of military action,” it said. Those include “establishing a mechanism that will make Hamas place its rockets in international custody,” it said.

Since the violence escalated on July 8, militants have fired more than 3,000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities and the Israeli air force has hit more than 4,600 targets in the seaside strip, according to the army. Israel says it has uncovered more than 30 tunnels.

By Bloomberg

 

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