GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP – Israel and Gaza Strip militants began to observe another Egypt-brokered truce, giving negotiators time to craft a more enduring accord after a month of violence in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Palestinian envoys attending truce talks in Cairo agreed to the Egyptian proposal, Hamas’s official Al-Rai news agency said. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment publicly, Saturday confirmed his country also had accepted Egypt’s plan for a 72-hour cease- fire.
As Israel and Hamas halt the fighting, they are struggling to reach a longer truce as each side seeks concessions. Israel wants Gaza demilitarized while Hamas is pressing to end a blockade Israel imposed in 2006, citing security concerns, after the militant group won Palestinian elections.
Ephraim Kam, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said an accord that eases the Gaza blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt may hinge on allowing the Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, to take control of border crossings.
“Unless Egypt exerts pressure on Hamas to agree to giving Abbas a major role in controlling the borders, it’s going to be difficult to reach any sort of compromise,” said Kam, who is a retired Israeli army intelligence colonel.
Israel withdrew ground troops from Gaza on Aug. 5, saying it battered militant rocket operations and destroyed all of the 32 known tunnels that armed groups had built to stage cross- border attacks. The truce unraveled Aug. 8 amid rocket fire, and Egyptian mediators have been laboring to reinstate it.
Israel’s Channel 2 TV, citing an unidentified official, said Saturday Israel would send a delegation to the Cairo talks if rocket fire on Israeli territory were to stop. Hours earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he wouldn’t order a return to talks before the bombardments ended.
Deadly violence has resumed since the cease-fire collapsed last week, though at a lower level. Israel has struck 170 targets since the last cease-fire crumbled, and militants have fired more than 130 rockets at Israeli territory, according to the military. Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qedra said 27 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli assaults.
“If we go back to fighting it will mainly be very low-key firing at this point,” Kam said. “Israel has an interest in the cease-fire at this point and Hamas is interested because it now needs to attend to all the damage in Gaza.”
More than 1,900 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and 67 people have died on the Israeli side, including three civilians.
Israel’s five-year credit default swaps rose last week to the highest since January, while the benchmark TA-25 stock index has remained largely unaffected by the conflict, advancing 0.3 percent since Israel opened its military operation against Gaza militants on July 8. The shekel has hovered near a three-year high.
Last week’s cease-fire was negotiated as a possible springboard for a more lasting settlement. Previous truces have failed to resolve underlying issues that have resurfaced violently three times in the past six years.
Egypt has also kept its border with Gaza largely sealed, and the twin blockades have confined most Gazans to the impoverished enclave of 1.8 million and crippled their economy by restricting the movement of goods.
Israel has defended its use of military force and says armed men account for 750 to 1,000 of the Palestinians killed in the current conflict.
It also accuses Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way, in part by operating from within densely populated areas and in or around mosques, schools and hospitals. Like the U.S. and European Union, it classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization.
As Netanyahu goes for another truce attempt, members of his Cabinet called for steps to crush Hamas militarily, including the possible reoccupation of Gaza, which Israel evacuated in 2005 after 38 years.
“We are approaching the point where we have to reach a decision,” Communications Minister Gilad Erdan said in remarks broadcast on Channel 2. “We can’t continue tolerating this situation.”