How Gaza has changed since Egypt’s proposal for ceasefire

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Photograph: Reuters/Murad Sezer

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Photograph: Reuters/Murad Sezer

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 01:00

International activity in pursuit of a ceasefire in Gaza is centred on the proposal tabled by Egypt a week ago for a halt to violence to be followed by talks between Israel and Hamas mediated in Cairo.

Israel, the US, the Arab League and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas have backed the plan. But Hamas continues to reject it, saying it gets nothing in return for an end to fighting – characterising it as essentially a surrender.

Since the plan was tabled, the game has changed. Israeli troops have gone in on the ground with the goal of locating and destroying tunnels there.

Military sources say the extent of the “sophisticated network” of tunnels is far more extensive than Israel had realised. Political leaders say the destruction of the tunnels is imperative for Israel’s security, and the primary aim of the current ground offensive.

Their stance could make it difficult for Israel to stop fighting before it can say its tunnels-eradication programme is complete.

For Hamas, the stakes are also higher: it needs a significant incentive to agree to a ceasefire, so it can tell Gaza’s civilians that the appalling deaths, injuries, destruction and suffering were worthwhile.

Despite heavy losses, Hamas has inflicted a grievous blow on Israel with the death of 13 soldiers in one day. And if Hamas has indeed captured an Israeli soldier – the Israel Defence Forces says it is investigating the claim – that will complicate ceasefire efforts.

But neither side wants, or can afford, a lengthy conflict. Many Israeli analysts are talking about another two or three days of fighting, which would allow an end to violence ahead of the last Friday of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr holiday which follows. That timescale could allow Israel to claim it had largely completed its task of destroying tunnels – and, as a senior military source said: “What we don’t know about, we don’t know.”

One of Hamas’s principal demands is the opening of crossings to Gaza. Egypt might agree to open the Rafah crossing in the south with Palestinian Authority security to police the Gaza side. Israel also wants to see the return of PA forces in Gaza. Hamas might find this harder to oppose since it signed a reconciliation deal with its rivals Fatah, which dominates the PA, several months ago.

– (Guardian service)

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