Israel Hamas truce
Dan Balilty/AP
A small group of Israeli left-wing Peace Now activists demonstrate outside Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s residence in Jerusalem as he met inside with European
leaders, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009.

Gaza Fighting Could End As Both Sides Announce Cease-Fire

January 18, 2009 12:39 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Separately, Israel and Hamas have decided to stop fighting in Gaza. Rocket attacks appeared to stop Sunday soon after the cease-fire announcements.

Fighting to End Sunday

On Sunday, Hamas representatives said they would stop fighting in Gaza, Reuters reported, following Israel's announcement of a unilateral cease-fire.

The Guardian had reported that after Israel announced its cease-fire, which took effect at 2 a.m., local time, about 10 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel. The Israeli military said it would return any fire.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, at the beginning of a weekly cabinet meeting, said, “Israel’s decision allows it to respond and renew fire at our enemies, the different terror organizations in the Gaza Strip, as long as they continue attacking.” Hamas leaders originally said they wouldn’t honor a cease-fire until Israeli troops were out of Gaza.

With the new announcement, Hamas has given Israel a week to get its soldiers out. The group has also called for the opening of all Gaza border crossings so that “all materials, food, goods and basic needs” could be brought in, Reuters said.

A spokesman for Olmert said troops could leave Gaza if the cease-fire stayed in place. Officials from the United Nations and several countries, including the United States, Germany, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Spain were expected to attend a meeting on Israel and Palestine in Egypt later today, the Guardian said.

Background: Israeli ground forces march into Gaza

More than 1,000 people in Gaza have died after three weeks of air strikes, and fighting on the ground, Bloomberg reported. Many of the dead are thought to be civilians in Gaza. 

“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.

Bloomberg also quoted Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, who told This Week, an ABC show: “If there is somebody who can stop terror with a different strategy, we shall accept it. We will not accept the idea that Hamas will continue to fire and we shall accept a cease-fire. It doesn’t make any sense.”

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.

Militants in Gaza responded by firing dozens more rockets into Israel, killing one man in the town of Netivot and injuring four others. Hamas has continued firing Qassam rockets into Southern Israel since, at the rate of dozens per day.

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

But not everyone in the Arab world is 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. 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.

Opinion & Analysis: Thoughts on Israel’s cease-fire

Noah Pollak, who is in an international relations graduate program at Yale University, wrote that the Israeli military and public are against a unilateral cease fire, especially because Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was captured months ago, hasn’t been rescued.

“An optimistic way of looking at the cease-fire is that it is an Israeli ploy designed to regain a favorable diplomatic position so that the war can be continued,” Pollak said. If rocket fire continues from Gaza, Israel can tell the world, “No matter what we do, Hamas attacks us. They are forcing us to fight.”

Ed Morrisey, writing on the conservative Hot Air Blog, says that the cease-fire might be better for Israel than Hamas. Those in Hamas have differing opinions on the cease-fire, Morrisey said, with “international leadership rejected the notion and the Gazans hoping for some sort of respite.”

A cease-fire could cause a deeper divide among those in Gaza, Morrisey writes, adding, “In any case, the Israelis continue to control the situation, and Hamas is left with few options, and no good ones.”

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