Israel exits, Gaza quiet as truce on
Posted: August 6, 2014 at 5:47 a.m.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israel said it withdrew the last of its ground forces from Gaza on Tuesday as it and Hamas began a cease-fire. The move sets the stage for talks in Egypt on a broader deal for a long-term truce and the rebuilding of the battered, blockaded coastal territory.
Both sides halted cross-border attacks as the three-day truce took effect at 8 a.m. Gaza time. In Gaza City, traffic picked up and shops started opening on streets that had been deserted during the war, which killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.
In coming days, Egyptian mediators plan to shuttle between Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo to try to work out new arrangements for Gaza.
As details of the Palestinian demands emerged, there were some signs that Hamas was willing to give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a role in Gaza as part of rebuilding efforts.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas' Palestinian Authority in 2007, prompting the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the territory. An Abbas-led government was formed in a unity deal with Hamas right before the war.
The Palestinian delegation in Cairo presented a joint list of demands to Egypt, said Hana Amireh, a West Bank-based Palestine Liberation Organization official who is in touch with the delegation. The delegation is led by one of Abbas' confidants but includes members of Hamas and other factions.
The demands include a call for internationally funded reconstruction that would be overseen by the Abbas-led government. Efforts are under way to arrange a pledging conference of donor countries in Norway at the beginning of September, said Mohammed Mustafa, the West Bank-based deputy prime minister of the technocrat government.
Hamas official Izzat Rishq suggested the group will seek a role in the actual reconstruction.
"We know that we have a national unity government that can handle the donors' conference and the rebuilding, but implementing it on the ground requires national cooperation," he said.
A three-member Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo on Tuesday evening, said an airport official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The situation on the ground remains volatile, and any cease-fire violation could derail the Cairo talks. Gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions are wide.
Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior official in Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said Israel is willing to discuss an easing of Gaza border restrictions but needs guarantees that Hamas will not be able to rearm itself.
He said the international community "can have a role in securing the security arrangements that are going to be agreed upon in Gaza," including preventing the entry of goods that could be diverted by Hamas for military purposes.
Israel is concerned that Hamas would be able to restock its military arsenal if the borders are opened.
Over the years, Hamas has smuggled rockets and other weapons into Gaza through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. The flow only halted after a new government took over in Egypt a year ago and destroyed the tunnels.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly raised the idea in recent days of disarming Hamas, with the help of the international community. Hamas is deeply rooted in Gaza and still has thousands of armed men under its command.
Seeing what's left
As Tuesday's truce took effect, Gaza residents returned to devastated areas to inspect the damage.
One of the hardest-hit areas in recent days was the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Several days of heavy Israeli shelling and airstrikes started there Friday after Israel suspected one of its soldiers had been captured by Hamas. Israel later said the soldier was killed in battle.
"I never saw anything like this in my life," Tawfiq Barbakh, a 67-year-old father of 12, said as he surveyed his badly damaged home. "I don't know how many shells landed every minute, but it felt like 20 or 30."
About 260,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million residents have been displaced by the fighting, according to the U.N., and many thousands of them remain huddled in schools or living with friends and relatives because the destruction wrought by the war left them with no homes to return to.
"I just came back to see my house," said Jihad Harara, 65, sitting on a plastic chair in front of a damaged mosque in eastern Gaza City.
Across the street stretched an expanse of collapsed apartment buildings that lay in a mess of concrete and rebar. "Even if I can't sleep there, I wanted to see it," he said.
His brother, Fouad Harara, 55, said he had worked for decades as laborer in Israel to earn the money to build his house, which also had been erased by the war.
"The only thing we gained is destruction," he said. "We lost in one instant all we had worked for 40 years to build."
The most recent round of confrontations between Israel and the Palestinians began with the June 12 abduction-killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank. That was followed by the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian-American teen, the roundup of hundreds of Hamas activists by Israel, and finally barrages of Gaza rocket fire on Israel.
Israel launched airstrikes July 8 aimed at stopping the rocket fire before expanding the operation July 17 by sending in ground forces to destroy a network of tunnels used to stage attacks.
The fighting has claimed nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives. The war has also left 67 dead on the Israeli side, all but three of whom were soldiers.
The U.N. and Gaza human-rights groups monitoring the death toll have said more than 75 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians.
But an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said Tuesday that about 900 Palestinian militants had been killed by Israeli forces during the war.
Another military official had earlier said at least 300 militants were killed. Asked about the sharp jump in figures over two days, Lerner said the figure of 900 militants killed was an approximation based on reporting from individual Israeli units.
Lerner also said troops destroyed 32 cross-border tunnels built for attacks inside Israel.
He said that over the past month, Hamas and other Gaza militants had fired some 3,300 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel and estimated that Israeli forces had destroyed another 3,000 rockets on the ground -- but that Hamas has an equal number left for future use.
At the United Nations on Tuesday, Jordan circulated a revised resolution calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza and condemning "all violence and hostilities against civilians."
Jordanian U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar said the draft resolution, backed by the Palestinians and Arab nations, was submitted to the Security Council in a form that could be put to a vote.
Kawar said Jordan is "very happy" with the 72-hour cease-fire announced late Monday and that the main purpose of the resolution is to make the cessation of hostilities permanent.
The revised resolution is likely to face an uphill struggle to win approval from the United States, Israel's closest ally and a veto-wielding council member, especially because it makes no mention of Hamas or its rocketing of Israel.
The draft urges support for the Egyptian cease-fire initiative, calls for "the sustained reopening" of crossing points into the Gaza Strip, and calls on the U.N. to establish "a mechanism" to monitor implementation of a cease-fire agreement and report on any violations.
It expresses "grave concern" at the heavy casualties and displacement of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and calls for the protection of civilians, including an end to military reprisals, collective punishment and the excessive use of force against the Palestinian civilian population.
Pernille Ironside, the head of the United Nations Children's fund office in Gaza, said Tuesday that the fighting in Gaza had a particularly "catastrophic and tragic impact" on children in the territory.
The conflict killed 408 children and injured 2,502, Ironside said. About 373,000 children have had traumatic experiences and need psychosocial support, she said.
"There isn't a single family in Gaza which hasn't been touched by direct loss," Ironside said. "The impact that has on the ability of children to cope cannot be overstated."
The Palestinian foreign minister said Tuesday that his government intends to apply for membership at the International Criminal Court this year in hopes of holding Israel responsible for purported war crimes.
"Israel has left us with no other option," Riad Malki said after meeting with court officials in The Hague.
The court said in a statement that it doesn't have jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories. The court couldn't immediately be reached to clarify whether it would accept an application by the Palestinians for jurisdiction.
An attempt by the Palestinians to join the International Criminal Court in 2009 failed because the court wasn't certain the territories qualified as a state under its rules. Malki said Tuesday that is no longer an issue since the state of Palestine was recognized by the U.N. General Assembly as a nonmember observer state in November 2012.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim to serve in the British Cabinet, resigned, saying her government's "approach and language" in the crisis had been "morally indefensible."
Prime Minister David Cameron has refused to join a chorus of British critics who have labeled Israel's bombardment of Gaza disproportionate and an outrage.
The resignation "reflects the unease and anxiety in Parliament and in the country about the U.K. government's present position" on the conflict, said Sir Menzies Campbell, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the governing coalition.
But George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer who is close to Cameron, called her action "disappointing and frankly unnecessary."
Information for this article was contributed by Karin Laub, Peter Enav, Ibrahim Barzak, Hamza Hendawi, Maggie Michael, Edith M. Lederer and Toby Sterling of The Associated Press and by Alan Cowell, Stephen Castle, Steven Erlanger, Ben Hubbard, Jodi Rudoren, Fares Akram and Nick Cumming-Bruce of The New York Times.
A Section on 08/06/2014