Israeli defense officials removed all remaining security limitations on the home front Saturday following the end of Israel-Hamas fighting, as Arab media said ceasefire talks would be renewed in Cairo next week
According to a report in London-based Arab newspaper A-Sharq Al-Awsat, Palestinian negotiators are expected to repeat their demands for the release of Hamas prisoners held by Israel since June, as well as the establishment of a seaport and an airport in the Strip. Israel has rejected these demands, and Hamas accepted an open-ended ceasefire on Tuesday without them.
Reports of new talks in coming days were not confirmed. Previous indications were that talks on a long-term Israel-Gaza arrangement were set to take place only a month from now.
Meanwhile Israel’s Home Front Command said all of Israel was returning to routine security status as of 6 p.m. Saturday, and all security limitations were being lifted. These included limitations on gatherings in large numbers, and on the opening of schools, summer camps, workplaces and shopping centers – including those in the Gaza periphery. Most of the public shelters throughout the country are also to be closed following the all-clear.
The head of the Eshkol regional council adjacent to Gaza, which was shelled heavily by Hamas throughout the conflict, called on residents to return home.
“I need to thank you for your perseverance,” Chaim Yellin said to his constituents, adding some thinly veiled criticism at Israeli leadership: “You are much stronger than many people sitting in Jerusalem.”
Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups reached an open-ended ceasefire deal with Israel on the 50th day of Operation Protective Edge. Under the deal Israel agreed to lift restrictions on fishing, allowing boats to work up to six nautical miles from the shore. It also pledged to ease restrictions at two of the crossings into Gaza — Erez and Kerem Shalom — to allow the supervised entry of goods, humanitarian aid and construction materials, in a move which began Thursday.
Continued indirect negotiations in Cairo are also stipulated in the deal, though it is unclear what progress can be made, as both sides compete for achievements and shy away from any concessions that may portray them as weak.
Hamas has vowed to pursue its goal of ending the blockade on Gaza and constructing a seaport and an airport to allow the Palestinians complete freedom in travel and trade between Gaza and the outside world. But Israel has said such a future was only possible if the territory is demilitarized — a move endorsed by the US and several European leaders but utterly rejected by Hamas.
Hamas has threatened to resume fighting should its demands not be met, with political chief Khaled Mashaal saying Thursday that Gaza would never give up its “sacred” weapons.
“The rockets and tunnels exist; if the negotiations fail and there is a need, we will return to resistance until we reach our goals,” he said at a press conference in Qatar.
On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded that he could not yet guarantee Israel’s military operation would ensure long-term quiet, but said that if Hamas resumes its fire, the IDF will strike back “sevenfold.” He said none of Hamas’s demands had been met.
Netanyahu said Israel would back the efforts of the Palestinian Authority and it’s leader Mahmoud Abbas to return to a governing position in the Gaza Strip.
“We would be happy if Abbas’s forces would enter Gaza,” he said.
But a senior official in the PA told the Times of Israel that Hamas was preventing the PA from returning to Gaza Strip. He said that despite declarations by Hamas that it would cooperate with the PA to rebuild Gaza, it was so far preventing it from doing so.
Abbas on Friday accused Hamas of needlessly extending the fighting in the Gaza Strip over the past two months, causing a high death toll.
Abbas told Palestine TV in remarks broadcast Friday that “it was possible for us to avoid all of that, 2,000 martyrs, 10,000 injured, 50,000 houses (damaged or destroyed).”
More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians, according to Hamas figures. Israel says 1,000 of the dead were Hamas and other gunmen. It also blames Hamas for all civilian fatalities, since Hamas set up its rocket-launchers, tunnel openings and other elements of its war machine in Gaza neighborhoods and uses Gazans as “human shields.”
Seventy one people on the Israeli side, among them six civilians, were killed.
Over the course of the conflict, Hamas fired almost 4,000 rockets at Israel, including some 600 from close to schools, mosques and other civilian facilities, the Israeli army said.
Avi Issacharoff, AP and AFP contributed to this report.