Monday, March 10, 2014
The Associated Press
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Palestinians celebrate the cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza City, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. Israel and the Hamas militant group agreed to a cease-fire Wednesday to end eight days of the fiercest fighting in nearly four years, promising to halt attacks on each other and ease an Israeli blockade constricting the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on during joint statements together with Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, not seen, at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. Israel and the Hamas militant group agreed to a cease-fire Wednesday to end eight days of the fiercest fighting in nearly four years, promising to halt attacks on each other and ease an Israeli blockade constricting the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Israel, which had massed thousands of troops along the Gaza border, was warned by its Western allies, including the U.S., against launching a ground offensive. Hamas would likely have lost popular support if Gazans had to endure another devastating military invasion.
Hours before the deal was announced, a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv near Israel's military headquarters, wounding 27 people and raising fears of a breakdown in the diplomacy. The blast, which left the bus charred and its windows blown out, was the first bombing in Tel Aviv since 2006. The bomb was placed inside the bus by a man who got off, said Yitzhak Aharonovich, Israel's minister of internal security. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
The deal calls for an immediate halt to "all hostilities," and after a 24-hour period of calm, talks will open on border arrangements. Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt is expected to assume a central role in the talks. Largely limited to foot traffic, Hamas hopes to turn the crossing into a bustling trade zone.
The new negotiations will try to tackle some difficult issues. Israel will be seeking guarantees for a halt in weapons smuggling by Hamas. The Islamists want unrestricted movement and trade in and out of Gaza.
Israel imposed its blockade five years ago, after Hamas seized control of Gaza from the rival Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas. Although the blockade has gradually been eased, key restrictions remain on exports, the entry of key raw materials, and the movement of people in and out of the area. These restrictions have ground Gaza's economy to a halt, fueling unemployment of more than 30 percent.
The negotiations will be laden with obstacles, and Egyptian mediators will be faced with tough-to-bridge positions by both sides. Hamas is likely to resist Israeli demands to demilitarize.
In his comments Wednesday, Mashaal boasted of the arsenal Hamas had amassed, both through a homegrown weapons industry and support from Iran, Israel's archenemy.
"We thank Iran for its support along with all the other nations that supported us," he said.
Mashaal said Hamas would demand a package that ends Gaza's isolation. "We talked about the crossings, and the freedom of movement and cargo," he said.
By brokering the truce, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi emerged as a pivotal player in the new Middle East, which has been swept by Islamist fervor during the Arab Spring changes of the past two years. As the key sponsor of the deal, serving as a middleman in cases of truce violations, Morsi will continue to play a key role.
His Muslim Brotherhood is the parent movement of Hamas, and the Egyptian leader has sympathized with the Palestinian Islamic group.
However, he has largely kept in place the restrictions on the Gaza-Egypt border that were imposed five years ago by his pro-Western predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, when Israel began sealing Gaza. Only Gazans fitting certain criteria can enter Egypt, and Morsi has resisted Hamas demands to open a cargo crossing.
Morsi has continued Mubarak's policy, in part, because of Egyptian concerns that an open border between Gaza and Egypt would allow Israel to "dump" the territory onto Egypt and undermine Palestinian statehood dreams.
Gaza and the West Bank flank Israel, which prevents virtual all travel between the two territories. If Gaza is open to Egypt, this would deepen the Palestinian territorial division and further undermine Abbas.
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Palestinians celebrate the announcement of a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza City, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. Israel and the Hamas militant group agreed to a cease-fire Wednesday to end eight days of the fiercest fighting in nearly four years, promising to halt attacks on each other and ease an Israeli blockade constricting the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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In this image made from Egyptian State Television, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, right, give a joint news conference announcing a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. Egypt has announced a cease-fire agreement to end a week of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr said the truce would take effect at 9 p.m. local time (2 p.m. EDT.) He made the announcement alongside visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (AP Photo/Egyptian State Television)
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This image taken from AP video shows smoke rising from a building moments after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, early Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. Israel and the Hamas militant group edged closer to a cease-fire Tuesday to end a weeklong Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, but after a day of furious diplomatic efforts involving the U.S. secretary of state, U.N. chief and Egypt's president, a deal remained elusive and fighting raged on both sides of the border. (AP Photo/AP Video)