JERUSALEM – As a three-day cease-fire between Israel and Hamas took hold Tuesday morning, Egyptian mediators began the difficult task of negotiating a sustainable truce between the two sides.
In order to reach any long-term agreement, the Egyptians must bridge wide gaps between the warring parties. Hamas is demanding the lifting of Israel’s siege around Gaza, the reopening of the Israeli-Egyptian border leading to Gaza (closed since the 2007 Hamas takeover), and that it be allowed to rebuild its destroyed infrastructure. Hamas also insists on an end to Israeli military incursions and assassinations of its leaders.
The Israeli negotiating team has told the Egyptians, Secretary of State John Kerry and PA President Mahmoud Abbas that Israel will not agree to any long-term cease-fire plan unless the border crossings with Egypt are manned by PA and Egyptian forces, Gaza reconstruction funds are controlled by outside agencies rather than by Hamas, and Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza are gradually disarmed and not allowed to restock their missile arsenals.
As of Tuesday, all IDF forces operating in Gaza withdrew and redeployed to holding positions around Gaza. This followed Israel’s destruction of 32 Hamas attack tunnels. IDF commanders allowed only small groups of reserve soldiers to return home, keeping nearly 80,000 soldiers in the field as Israel awaits the outcome of the Cairo talks.
Several IDF soldiers told Israeli television military correspondents that despite the deaths of 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians, along with 100 soldiers hospitalized with war-related injuries, they were disappointed at not being allowed to “finish the job” in Gaza.
Despite international condemnation of Israel over mounting civilian casualties in Gaza, TV and newspaper polls of Israeli citizens found widespread dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to halt Operation Protective Edge after 29 days. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said they wanted the IDF to destroy Hamas.
Regional Council heads from the Gaza and Ashkelon regions, who met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hours before the cease-fire went into effect, expressed their concerns that the dangers surrounding the terror tunnels and rocket fire have not been totally alleviated. Eshkol Regional Council Chairman Chaim Yellin said, “We no longer want to tolerate the situation that has existed on and off for the past few years, where our communities have to absorb occasional showers of missiles without a harsh military response.”
Yaalon responded to this concern by saying that “The issue of lifting the threat from the tunnels that we know about is nearing completion. We will also increase security for communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip. We are committed to restoring security to residents and this goal needs to lead to a process of expansion and growth for communities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip.”
However, many residents of Gaza area towns and kibbutzim, who temporarily relocated to other kibbutzim in central and northern Israel, are refusing to return home until their safety is assured. One young mother from the area told Channel 10 News, “I love my kibbutz but I won’t return until either a senior-ranking politician or IDF commander can look at me and tell me point blank that I don’t have to worry about rockets falling on my house or terrorists emerging from the ground while our family is eating dinner in the dining hall.”
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, criticized the decision to continue the funneling of electricity, water and foodstuffs into Gaza before a permanent cease-fire takes hold.
“Hamas is the authentic voice for the people of Gaza. They built a strong army; in fact, they’re kind of a state unto themselves,” Eiland told Ynet. “The fact that Israel, for years, allowed this state to fire rockets and mortars at it, and we continued giving them food is absurd. The fact that the residents of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom have been abandoned, and 300 meters away at the border crossing food was being allowed into Gaza during the war was a big mistake.” Eiland urged Netanyahu to not lift the blockade around Gaza until “after disarming Hamas rocket firing capabilities and their tunneling abilities.”