Renewed Gaza ceasefire takes hold after rocky start

Published August 15, 2014
.— AFP file photo
.— AFP file photo

GAZA CITY: A new, five-day truce between Israel and Hamas appeared to be holding on Thursday despite a shaky start, after both sides agreed to give Egyptian-brokered peace negotiations in Cairo more time to try to end the Gaza war.

The Israeli military said Gaza militants had breached the truce by firing eight rockets at Israel shortly after midnight. In response, Israeli fighter planes targeted “rocket launchers and terror sites” across the enclave. No casualties were reported and hostilities died down by dawn.

The second extension of the ceasefire, this time for five days rather than three, has raised hopes that a longer-term resolution to the conflict can be found, although the way ahead remains fraught with difficulty.

A senior Hamas official who returned to Gaza from the negotiations in Cairo said they had been tough but expressed some optimism.

“There is still a real chance to clinch an agreement,” Khalil al-Hayya told reporters, saying that it depended on Israel not “playing with language to void our demands”.

Know more: Truce holds as Cairo talks turn to Gaza blockade

“The Egyptian mediators are entering a good effort and we wish them success in this negotiation battle.” After more than a month of intense conflict, which killed 1,945 Palestinians, many of them civilians, as well as 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel, there is little appetite on either side for a resumption of bloodshed.

Hamas and its allies want an end to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade on Gaza. But Israel and Egypt harbour deep security concerns about Hamas, the dominant group in the small, Mediterranean coastal enclave, complicating any deal on easing border restrictions.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told Al-Aqsa Hamas television on Wednesday that Hamas would insist on “lifting the Gaza blockade” and reducing restrictions on the territory’s 1.8 million people’s movements as a prerequisite to a “permanent calm”.

Members of the Palestinian delegation said they would return to Cairo for more talks on Sunday.

Egyptian and Palestinian sources said Israel had tentatively agreed to relax curbs on the movement of people and goods across the border, subject to certain conditions.

A Palestinian demand for a Gaza seaport and reconstruction of an airport destroyed in previous conflicts with Israel has been a stumbling block, with Israel citing security reasons for opposing their operation.

The sides have agreed to delay discussion of any agreement on the ports for a month, a Palestinian official said.

As part of Egypt’s blueprint, Israel would expand the area where it allows Gaza’s fishermen to operate to 10km from the shore, from 5km at present.

Farms devastated

The conflict in Gaza has caused serious damage to crops, herds and fishing as well as irrigation systems, bringing food production to a halt and sending prices sharply higher, the UN’s food body has said.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a statement that virtually the entire local population of about 1.8 million was dependent on food aid and significant long term help would be needed for local farms to recover.

Ciro Fiorillo, head of FAO’s office in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said specialists had been able to make a series of field visits to the coastal Palestinian enclave to prepare a detailed assessment of the damage during the latest ceasefire.

He said bomb damage, water and electricity shortages and financial problems, as well as the uncertainty about a possible resumption of military activities had caused major problems.

“Under the most recent ceasefire many farmers and herders are now able to access their lands, however resumption of food production faces serious obstacles,” he said.

Food prices have shot up for many items since the start of hostilities, with egg prices up 40 per cent, potatoes up 42 per cent and tomatoes up as much as 179 per cent.

FAO said there had been substantial direct damage to the 17,000 hectares of croplands in Gaza and the area had lost around half its population of poultry either through direct hits on shelters or by lack of feed or water. —Reuters

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2014

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