US, Egypt co-ordinate fragile ceasefire
After seven days of fighting and countless hours of diplomatic manoeuvring, the US and Egypt succeeded in steering Israel and Hamas towards a tentative ceasefire last night.
US president Barack Obama said he recommended to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu that he accept the Egyptian-brokered plan.
His secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said the cessation came at a “a critical moment” for the region.
She thanked Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, for his mediation efforts and pledged to work with partners in the region “to consolidate this progress, improve conditions for the people of Gaza, provide security for the people of Israel”.
Up until the last minute, conditions for a deal had looked inauspicious. Egypt and Hamas had talked up the prospect of an imminent ceasefire on Tuesday night, only to see it fall through at the last hurdle. While efforts to find a political solution faltered, hostilities intensified.
Israel kept up its heavy bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Hamas and other militant groups continued to fire rockets across the border.
Then, at midday yesterday, a bomb exploded on a bus in central Tel Aviv – the first time Israel’s commercial capital had been bombed since 2006. That sparked concerns that diplomatic efforts could be derailed, or that Israel could decide to launch a ground invasion – a prospect that had grown more remote in recent days.
But talks continued apace throughout the day. After a meeting with Mr Netanyahu that ran into the early hours of yesterday, Mrs Clinton travelled to Ramallah, returned for further talks with the Israelis in Jerusalem and then went to Cairo, where she announced the ceasefire with Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr last night.
Mr Amr said mediation efforts had “resulted in understandings to cease fire, restore calm and halt the bloodshed”.
Mr Netanyahu told Mr Obama he was ready to give the ceasefire a chance, but that “more forceful action” might be needed if it failed, according to a statement from his office.
Mr Obama in turn reiterated his country’s commitment to Israel’s security and pledged to seek funds for a joint missile defence programme, the White House said.
Senior Hamas figure Ahmed Bahar said Israel had “submitted to the conditions and demands set by the resistance” and he hailed the outcome as a triumph.