Israel, Hamas agree on ‘restoration of calm’ after Gaza flare-up
London - Israel and Hamas have agreed to what the Palestinian group termed “a restoration of calm” following hostilities that involved the resumption of Israeli strikes against Gaza after militant rocket fire from the strip was directed at Israel.
Calm appears to have been restored to the Israel-Gaza border after an Egypt-brokered ceasefire went into effect May 30.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants fired dozens of rockets and mortar shells at Israel, leading to Israeli tank and air strikes hitting more than 50 targets in the besieged enclave.
“After the resistance succeeded in confronting the (Israeli) aggression… there was a lot of (Egyptian) mediation in the past hours,” said Hamas’s deputy chief in Gaza Khalil al-Hayya. “An agreement was reached to return to the (2014) ceasefire understandings in the Gaza Strip. The resistance factions will abide by it as long as the occupation does the same.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad said the rocket fire was in retaliation for Israeli attacks targeting their positions, which reportedly killed three Islamic Jihad members. There were no fatalities on the Israeli side.
“What the resistance carried out… comes within the framework of the natural right to defend our people,” read a statement from Hamas.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad had vowed to avenge the death of at least 116 Palestinian protesters at the hands of Israeli forces near the Gaza border since March 30.
Israel denied that it had agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas but said it would refrain from further strikes against Gaza if Palestinian militants stopped firing rockets at Israel.
“Firing has stopped since the morning and Israel conveyed a message that if it resumes, the attacks on Hamas and its associates will be even stronger,” said a senior Israeli official.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told Israel Radio that the resumption of hostilities “depends on Hamas.”
“Israel does not want the situation to deteriorate but those who started the violence must stop it,” said Katz.
Israeli Cabinet minister Aryeh Deri said he expected calm to resume.
“If it will be quiet, we will respond with quiet… There is a good chance that the routine will be restored after the blow the army unleashed on them,” Deri told Israel’s Army Radio.
Israeli analysts attributed Israel’s apparent acceptance of an undeclared truce with Hamas to their country’s preoccupation with Iran’s presence in Syria.
“Compared to Syria, Gaza is considered a secondary front, and Israel does not currently have a clear goal there,” wrote Haaretz defence analyst Amos Harel. “Toppling the Hamas regime would entail a war that will have a significant price and there is no certainty that the alternative, after Hamas, will necessarily be better.”
Other Israeli officials warned that the response against Gaza could be stronger next time.
“All the options are on the table, including conquering the strip,” Israeli Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked told ynetnews.com.
“We hope that we will not be forced to carry out this move (of conquering the entire Gaza Strip),” Israeli Water Resources Yuval Steinitz said in same article. He also blamed the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for Gaza’s woes.
“[Abbas is] deliberately putting Gaza in a humanitarian crisis so that the anger and distress will be directed at the state of Israel,” Steinitz said.
Abbas blamed Israel for the escalation in Gaza, saying: “The Israeli occupation launched a fierce aggression on the Gaza Strip… with rockets and aircraft. This indicates that the occupation does not want peace. However, we want peace and we demand peace.”
The United States put forward a resolution at the UN Security Council condemning Palestinian rocket fire and upholding Israel’s right to defend itself. Only the United States voted in favour of the measure. Kuwait proposed a Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s use of force against Palestinian civilians but the United States vetoed the proposition.
There are fears that the latest escalations could spark a new war, similar in scale to the one in 2014 in which more than 2,000 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed.
The tensions came as Israeli forces seized control of a Palestinian boat that was seeking to leave Gaza’s waters in a protest against the blockade of the enclave.
It also coincided with a visit to Gaza by Britain’s Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt where he announced a $2 million aid package to help treat patients in 11 hospitals in the Gaza Strip.
“I am deeply concerned about the worsening situation in the Gaza Strip and today’s UK aid package gives a message to the world and to the people of Gaza that we have not forgotten them or their plight,” said Burt.
“We have been clear that a political settlement is the only way to ensure lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike. All parties must redouble their political efforts and return to the negotiating table, not only to address the deteriorating conditions in Gaza, but to ensure tragedies of the past months are not repeated.”
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, speaking at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, said: “The tensions in Gaza happen in a context of lack of a peace process and in the context of developments in Jerusalem and we still are all committed, all the 28, to consider Jerusalem the future capital of the two states.”