TEL AVIV – A rocket barrage fell on Israel, a boom sounded over Tel Aviv and then it was over – at least for now.
After 50 days of missiles, air strikes, ground operations, tunnel incursions, truce talks, cease-fire proposals, death and destruction, Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended truce on Tuesday.
The cease-fire announced by Egypt stipulates that Israel and Egypt will open all border crossings to allow international humanitarian aid and construction materials to enter the Gaza Strip.
The agreement requires Israel and Hamas to cease hostilities but, according to reports, does not include commitments to allow an international airport and seaport in Gaza. After a month, should the quiet hold, Israel and Hamas will restart indirect negotiations in Cairo on easing Israel’s blockade of the coastal strip and disarming the enclave.
The end of the operation should not include “any significant political achievements for Hamas, which is a terrorist organization that doesn’t accept our existence here,” said Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister.
Livni added that the truce should be “part of an overall accord with those who seek peace.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not spoken publicly or released a statement about the cease-fire as of press time. Two days prior, though, during a Cabinet meeting, he said: “We embarked on Operation Protective Edge in order to restore quiet and security to you and to all Israeli citizens. The more determined and patient we are, the more our enemies will understand that they will not succeed in wearing us down.”
The agreement is the culmination of Egyptian-led cease-fire efforts that have been ongoing throughout the conflict. Earlier this month, Israel and Hamas had agreed to a string of temporary cease-fires. The lull ended with Hamas rocket fire on Israel last week.
The fighting is Israel’s third major conflict with Hamas since 2008, following conflicts in 2008–09 and 2012. This one, however, was the longest and costliest between the sides since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
More than 2,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis died in the latest conflict, which wounded more than 10,000 Gazans and 500 Israelis, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
The fighting created ghost towns across Israel’s South and devastated Gaza, destroying thousands of homes. Israeli forces delivered a punishing blow to Hamas during the conflict, with air strikes destroying thousands of rockets and ground troops eliminating much of its tunnel infrastructure both under the Israel-Gaza border and across Gaza.
Last week, an Israeli air strike killed three senior Hamas commanders. The chief of Hamas’s military wing, Mohammed Deif, may have been killed in a separate attack last week.
Israel’s aggressive military tactics drew widespread international criticism. Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council said it would send a fact-finding mission to investigate possible war crimes committed during the fighting. Israel has indicated it likely will not cooperate with the investigation, alleging anti-Israel bias.
On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. “strongly supports” the cease-fire.
“We view this as an opportunity, not a certainty,” Psaki said, according to reports. “Today’s agreement comes after many hours and days of negotiations and discussions. But certainly there’s a long road ahead. And we’re aware of that and we’re going into this eyes wide open.”
Hamas saw many of its attempted attacks on Israel frustrated. Iron Dome intercepted nearly all the rockets Hamas aimed at city centers, and the Israel Defense Forces stopped Hamas’s infiltrations into Israel close to the border.
Nevertheless, Hamas killed 64 Israeli soldiers in Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza – the highest death toll for Israel since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 – in addition to six civilians.