The ceasefire talks to end Operation Protective Edge in Cairo remained on hold Friday, but some representatives of Palestinian terror groups in Gaza intimated that the fighting might be over.
Deputy head of Islamic Jihad Ziad Nakhaleh told the al-Hayat newspaper Friday that the hostilities between Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip and Israel are done, and at this stage there’s no choice but to reach a long-term ceasefire agreement. Khaled al-Batsh, another senior member of the terror group, had said Thursday that even if a deal isn’t reached that addresses the demands of the Palestinians, the groups in Gaza would weigh a long-term ceasefire to protect the civilian population.
A Hamas source told Israel Radio Friday that he believes the fighting won’t start again, even if a deal isn’t reached by Monday. Another unnamed Hamas official who spoke to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin said the Islamist group wanted a long-term ceasefire with Israel, and would even accept international oversight to ensure that the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip took place above ground instead of below.
Hamas is prepared to end this war with a long-term ceasefire & to turn the authority in Gaza over the national reconciliation government
— Gershon Baskin (@gershonbaskin) August 15, 2014
Talks are expected to restart on Sunday, but Hamas officials say discussion of major talking points remains. Israeli negotiators are expected to return to Cairo Saturday night, and the five-day truce agreed upon Wednesday is set to expire Monday night.
The Palestinian Ma’an news agency on Friday published what it said are Israeli proposals as part of the ceasefire negotiations. According to the report, Israel has made the opening of the border crossings with the Gaza Strip conditional on a detailed agreement with the Palestinian Authority, and proposed providing the Palestinian territory with aid for reconstruction.
The reported proposal makes no mention of transferring Hamas salaries, but mentions Israeli opposition to prisoner releases and to the construction of a Gaza seaport and airport.
The Palestinian news agency also published seven clauses of a “strategic plan” set by the Palestinians for removing the blockade from the Gaza Strip:
1. Salaries are paid to Hamas civil servants in Gaza and government ministries are reactivated in the Strip.
2. The PA joins the rest of the international treaties and organizations.
3. Between 1,000-3,000 PA Presidential Guard troops are deployed to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
4. A conference supporting the reconstruction of Gaza is moved from Norway to Egypt, to ease the process.
5. The PA Foreign Ministry signs bilateral agreements and conducts diplomatic trips to Latin America.
6. The PA signs an agreement with Egypt concerning the Rafah border crossing.
7. Negotiations begin on the establishment of a seaport and airport.
Palestinian officials had voiced cautious optimism about a deal Thursday in the Egyptian-mediated negotiations.
But with the sides’ demands still seemingly irreconcilable, that optimism may yet prove premature.
The negotiations are meant to secure a substantive end to the month-long war and draw up a road map for the coastal territory, which has been hard-hit in the fighting.
Israeli officials have largely kept quiet about the negotiations. But Palestinian groups represented in Cairo said progress was being made toward a deal — a stark turnaround from earlier posturing.
“The war is now behind us, and the chances for an agreement on a lasting ceasefire are encouraging,” Nakhaleh told The Associated Press. “Though we didn’t get all that we wanted, there was progress here and there.”
Beyond demands for a seaport and airport, Hamas is also seeking an end to a crippling blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007, when Hamas seized control of the coastal strip. The blockade has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people. It has also restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.
Reports in the Arabic press on Friday, however, suggested the Palestinian factions in Gaza were putting the seaport and airport demand on ice until a later stage in the negotiation process.
Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent arms smuggling, and officials are reluctant to make any concessions that would allow Hamas to declare victory.
Israel, meanwhile, is demanding that Hamas be disarmed, or at the very least, be prevented from re-arming, a term that is a virtual non-starter for the Islamist terror group.
Hamas has recovered from previous rounds of violence with Israel, including a major three-week air and ground operation in January 2009 and another week-long air offensive in 2012. It still has an arsenal of several thousand rockets, some with long ranges and relatively heavy payloads.
The sides are studying an Egyptian proposal that calls for easing parts of the blockade.
But the proposal leaves the key areas of disagreement, including Hamas’s demand for a full lifting of the blockade and Israeli calls for Hamas to disarm, to later negotiations.
On Wednesday, as the head of the Palestinian delegation Azzam al-Ahmad announced the ceasefire had been extended for an additional five days, he also noted that there had been “significant progress.” But, highlighting the devil-in-the-details nature of the negotiations, he also said disagreements remained over wording regarding security arrangements, reconstruction efforts for the Gaza Strip and the permissible fishing area.
“There is a real opportunity to reach an agreement, but (Israel) must stop the maneuvers and playing with words,” said senior Hamas negotiator Khalil al-Haya, without elaborating.
“We are not interested in more destruction for our people. We are not interested in more bloodshed,” he said.
Al-Haya told reporters in Cairo that Hamas would seek international guarantees to enforce any agreements reached with Israel. He said that together with the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank and with which Hamas formed a unity government earlier this year, the Islamist group would expect to play an important role in rebuilding Gaza.
Almost 2,000 people have been killed in Gaza in the past month’s fighting, according to officials in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Israel says 750-1,000 of the dead are combatants, while Gaza has not broken down the deaths.
Israel 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.”
Israel lost 64 soldiers and three civilians in the fighting, which is on hold as the sides attempt to negotiate a ceasefire in Cairo.
Eleven of the Israeli soldiers were killed by Hamas gunmen emerging from cross-border tunnels dug under the Israeli border. Hamas fired over 3,000 rockets at Israel, including some 600 from areas close to schools, mosques and other civilian facilities, the Israeli army says.