Israel Hamas truce
Amr Nabil/AP
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, center, meets with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana
at the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt.

Egypt Hopes to Foster Israel–Hamas Peace Accord, But Fighting Persists

February 02, 2009 11:56 AM
by Josh Katz
Members of Hamas are currently meeting with Egyptian mediators to construct a longer-term cease-fire with Israel, but rocket attacks and Israeli retaliation continue.

Talks in Cairo, Fighting in Gaza

Israeli authorities said two of its soldiers and one civilian were slightly wounded by rockets launched from Gaza. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there would be “sharp Israeli response” to the 10 rockets and mortar shells that hit southern Israel. Hamas militants have sent rockets into Israel on numerous occasions since the informal Jan. 18 cease-fire, according to CNN.

Israel retaliated on Sunday with air strikes mainly directed at Gaza’s border with Egypt on Sunday, where hidden tunnels are reputedly used to smuggle weapons. And an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a car in Gaza on Monday, killing a Palestinian militant, CNN reports.

A Hamas spokesman said the militant group will hold a final round of talks on Monday with representatives of the Egyptian government to create the conditions for a long-term cease-fire with Israel. The group in control of Gaza says it will determine its position on the peace talks as a result of the talks in Cairo, the Associated Press reports.

Egypt, which has become a major mediator for the two sides, aims to hatch a truce by Thursday. Hamas is hoping for a one-year ceasefire with Israel.

Israel wants a stop to all rocket fire into the country as well as the an end to the smuggling of weapons.

Hamas has rejected the requirement that it not rearm. “We are a resistance movement and an occupied people and it is our right to possess weapons,” senior Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, AP reports.

Hamas also says that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit will not be part of the agreement. Israel has sought to tie his release to any reopening of Gaza’s borders, but Hamas demands a prisoner exchange: “Hamas says Israel must free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including convicted murders, to win the soldier’s freedom,” Fox News writes.

The recent violence could also affect the upcoming Israeli elections. “Continued fighting could work against the outgoing government and bolster hardline opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the current front-runner, in the Feb. 10 vote,” according to Fox.

Background: War in Gaza

Israel began a military operation against Hamas on Dec. 17, with the goal of halting rocket attacks into southern Israeli neighborhoods. As a result of Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza, about 1,300 Palestinians were killed and 5,400 were wounded; 13 Israelis also died.

“The political wing of Hamas has absorbed a serious blow, but the military wing has not been hit as hard as we would like. The goal is to deal a serious blow to the terrorist infrastructure of the Hamas,” Bloomberg reported Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel as saying to reporters.

Despite a six-month truce, Israelis living near the Gaza border endured “almost daily cross-border rocket and mortar fire,” Israeli leaders told Reuters. That munitions fire intensified at the end of December after Hamas announced it was officially ending the truce.

Israel responded by firing into Gaza through airstrikes that destroyed the main security complex there. In the first 24 hours, the strikes had killed 280 Palestinians and injured 700, Reuters reported. Hamas continued firing Qassam rockets into Southern Israel since, at the rate of dozens per day.

The airstrikes caused outrage and demonstrations in cities throughout the Middle East, the Associated Press reported. 

But not everyone in the Arab world was supporting Hamas. For example, Egyptian leaders blamed Hamas for abandoning the cease-fire, and the group’s practice of using civilians as shields has also been lambasted.

Leaders from the European Union, the United Nations, Russia, Egypt and other nations condemned the Israeli strikes while calling for Hamas stop the rocket attacks. Former U.S. President George W. Bush put the blame squarely on Hamas and demanded an end to its firing of rockets.

Historical Context: The blockade and truce

Israel began the blockade against Gaza and the West Bank in early 2006 with the support of the United States and the European Union, after Hamas won parliamentary elections, the Los Angeles Times writes. Israel lifted the West Bank blockade in June 2007 when the Palestinian Authority’s power-sharing agreement fell apart, and the secular Fatah group took charge of the area.

Israel then engaged in peace talks with Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, while augmenting the blockade against Gaza. The rocket attacks from Gaza continued, however, and the popularity of Hamas did not fade in the strip.

The Egyptian-mediated truce began on June 19 and both sides consented to observe a “mutual and simultaneous calm.” Israel also agreed to gradually ease the blockade, and the nation did permit “more food, fuel and humanitarian relief supplies into Gaza,” but Hamas said it wasn’t enough, according to the LA Times. The Israeli military claims that Gaza has launched more than 300 rockets and mortar shells into Israel since the Nov. 4 attack into Gaza because of the tunnels.

Israel has recently faced increasing international pressure to lift the Gaza blockade. Even the United States, Israel’s closest ally, expressed such sentiments recently. The European Union, United Nations and Russia have also pushed Israel to remove the blockade, according to Sky News.

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