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Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal reached after weeks of Gaza balloon attacks

In tacit acknowledgment of truce, Israel says it will fully reopen fishing zone, border crossings if situation remains calm

A firefighter attempts to extinguish a fire started by an incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on the border with Gaza, August 24, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
A firefighter attempts to extinguish a fire started by an incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on the border with Gaza, August 24, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The Hamas terror group said it accepted a ceasefire agreement with Israel on Monday night, ending a nearly month-long round of low-level violence along the Gaza border.

Israel did not explicitly confirm the existence of a deal, but in a tacit acknowledgment said it would fully reopen the fishing zone off the coast of the Strip and the enclave’s border crossings beginning Tuesday.

“This decision will be tested on the ground: If Hamas, which is responsible for all actions that are taken in the Gaza Strip, will fail to meet its obligations, Israel will act accordingly,” Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said in a statement.

The breakthrough in the negotiations came as the number of coronavirus cases in the beleaguered Palestinian enclave continued to rise by dozens each day, threatening another humanitarian crisis in an area that already lacks regular access to electricity and potable water.

Smoke rises in the distance after IDF planes carried out airstrikes on Hamas targets near Gaza City on August 28, 2020. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Beginning on August 6, terrorists in the Strip again began launching dozens of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel each day, sparking dozens of fires daily that burned many acres of Israeli land and caused a small amount of property damage. Over the past week, sporadic rocket attacks have struck Gaza-adjacent communities, causing damage to homes and light injuries.

Monday saw at least 15 fires in southern Israel that were sparked by airborne arson attacks, the fire department said.

In response to the balloon attacks and the rockets, the IDF conducted near-nightly reprisal raids on Hamas sites in the Strip since August 12, bombing both above- and below-ground facilities, while refraining from hitting operatives. On August 16, Israel also halted the transfer of all goods, save for food and humanitarian aid, into the enclave and barred Palestinians from fishing off the Gaza coast.

In a statement Monday night, Hamas said the agreement was brokered by Qatari envoy Mohammad al-Emadi, who has been meeting regularly with Gazan and Israeli officials over the past week.

“As part of these efforts, a number of projects that serve our people in the Gaza Strip will be announced and contribute to alleviating our crises in light of the coronavirus wave that befell the Gaza Strip, as well as the return of the situation to the status quo,” Hamas said.

Qatar’s point man for the Gaza Strip, envoy, Mohammed Al-Emadi, attends a press conference at the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Feb. 19, 2018. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

Al-Emadi was also expected to soon begin distributing the $30 million he brought into the Strip, which will go to purchasing fuel, paying civil servants and helping Gaza’s poor.

Shortly after Hamas’s statement, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians — known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territory — effectively confirmed the ceasefire deal, saying it would reopen the border crossing, including to fuel deliveries, as well as the Gaza fishing zone to the full 15-nautical-mile limit.

“The resumption of the civilian policy vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip is subject to the continuation of the calm and the security stability,” COGAT said.

Israel has so far been mum on what — if any — other measures were approved as part of the ceasefire agreement.

Al-Emadi subsequently announced that a ceasefire had been achieved.
In exchange, he promised “the implementation of a number of projects that serve the people of the Gaza Strip and contribute to alleviating the effect of the years-long blockade.”

The Qatari envoy praised the Hamas leadership, which he said possessed “a high level of responsibility… taking into account the difficult circumstances and conditions that the residents of the Strip live in, especially in light of the spread of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip.”

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov hailed the ceasefire, saying it allowed the UN to begin assisting the Strip deal with its growing coronavirus outbreak.

“I welcome the agreement to de-escalate tensions in and around Gaza. Ending the launching of incendiary devices and projectiles, restoring electricity will allow UN to focus on dealing with the COVID-19 crisis,” Mladenov said.

Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip have demanded a total end of the blockade on the enclave in exchange for an end to hostilities — a request that is unlikely to be accepted by Israel, which believes that such an open border would be used by terrorist organizations to bring large quantities of weapons into Gaza. However, Israel has at times loosened its restrictions on what types of goods can enter the Strip.

The groups have also asked for new internationally funded infrastructure programs for the beleaguered enclave.

Monday’s agreement came a day after a Palestinian newspaper reported that al-Emadi had made progress in the negotiations, reaching tentative understandings between the two sides.

Over the past two and a half years, Israel has waged 11 rounds of fighting with terror groups in the Strip.

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