Uneasy calm as truce in Gaza allows talks resume

72-hour ceasefire continues to hold

Palestinians gather yesterday around the remains of a mosque in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, that witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike before a 72-hour truce began.  Photograph: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinians gather yesterday around the remains of a mosque in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, that witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike before a 72-hour truce began. Photograph: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

 

An uneasy calm returned to Gaza yesterday as the Palestinian multiparty delegation met Egyptian mediators and the Israeli team engaged with another Egyptian team to negotiate long-term arrangements for Gaza that would ease or lift the Israeli siege and blockade and end Palestinian rocket fire into Israel.

Israel’s team, headed by experienced negotiator Yitzak Molcho, arrived at noon, then returned to Jerusalem to consult the security cabinet.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas dispatched veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to take part in talks with Egyptian and Arab League officials.

Under pressure from Egypt and the international community, the sides agreed on Sunday to a new 72-hour ceasefire, allowing proximity talks, disrupted last week, to proceed. The truce was hailed by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon who urged both sides to “avoid any steps which would lead to a return to violence”.

He expressed the hope that the outcome of the pause in hostilities might be a “durable ceasefire . . . and a starting point to address the underlying grievances of both sides”.

The Israelis are calling for the disarmament of Hamas and the demilitarisation of Gaza. The Palestinians are rejecting the demands and insisting on full freedom for Gaza, which remains under tight Israeli control with travel, trade and economic development restricted.

Jaber Wisha of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights told The Irish Times on the phone from Gaza: “People here are stubborn and won’t accept anything less than lifting of the closure and access through a port and airport.” He and his family have suffered no deaths or injuries but their home, located in the Bureij refugee camp “is in an exposed area”.

UN human rights inquiry

James Rawley, the senior UN humanitarian official for the Palestinian territories has said Israel’s security must be taken into account but warned that unless the blockade ends and reconstruction begins there could be further conflict.

Eighty per cent of the 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza depend on international food aid and the services of UN agencies dealing with refugees.

Return to homes

Rescue services continued the search for bodies under the rubble as the wounded made their way to hospitals and clinics. Gaza’s bomb squad, depleted by death and injury, collected unexploded ordnance. Gazans were urged to be alert to the dangers posed by live munitions.

Opened crossing

Sixty-four Israeli troops and three civilians were killed over the month-long conflict. On the Palestinian side, 1,938 died, 73 per cent of them civilians.

It has been reported that 41,240 homes were hit, 16,000 of them destroyed; 63 mosques destroyed, 150 damaged; two churches destroyed, one Christian, and 10 Muslim cemeteries hit; 22 ambulances struck, 18 crew killed and 83 injured; and 17 hospitals and seven clinics attacked.

Some 500,000 people have been displaced: 240,000 are in UN shelters; 200,000 in government shelters and the rest are believed to be staying with relatives or friends.