Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire Sunday in the 22-day offensive against the Gaza Strip controlled by the Islamist group Hamas. Hours later, Hamas declared a separate ceasefire. Since both parties refused to talk and weigh each other’s demands, the calm is tentative. Israel, Hamas and other parties concerned, including Egypt and the United States, are urged to work out a permanent truce as soon as possible.
To counter rocket attacks by Hamas, Israel launched air raids against Gaza on Dec. 27 and poured ground forces into the area on Jan. 3. In mid-December, Hamas had decided not to renew a six-month ceasefire brokered by Egypt, thus sowing the seeds for conflict this time around. But that decision had been in response to the strengthened blockade of Gaza by Israel.
The conflict has killed 13 Israelis. But the Palestinian death toll tops 1,300, including some 410 children. About 5,300 Palestinians have been injured. Israel’s offensive has caused an estimated $1.9 billion worth of damage to 22,000 buildings and has worsened humanitarian conditions for Gaza residents, who had suffered from the blockade. Allegations that Israel used white phosphorus shells should be investigated.
By inflicting serious damage to routes used to smuggle weapons into Gaza, Israel declared that it had achieved its military goal. But as expected, Hamas declared victory, saying its military struggle had forced Israel to stop its offensive.
An agreement signed by Israel and the Bush administration of the U.S. helped Israel declare a ceasefire. Under the agreement, the U.S. will provide technical assistance to destroy tunnels used to smuggle new weapons to Hamas from the Egyptian Sinai. Monitoring forces also will be deployed.
Stabilization of the Gaza situation is unlikely unless the blockade against it is loosened to the degree Hamas desires. But as long as Hamas sticks to its position that it does not recognize the existence of Israel, this will not happen. Hamas should rethink its basic stance toward Israel. New U.S. President Barack Obama can help bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, first, by listening closely to each side’s assertions.
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