Twenty-nine days after the beginning of the “Protective Edge” operation launched by the Israeli Army, Tsahal, Israel has started withdrawing its soldiers from the Gaza Strip. After several failed attempts to install a ceasefire, both sides have agreed to indirect negotiations under Egyptian conditions. Israeli and Hamas delegations should start peace talks in Cairo today.
The Israeli troops have started their withdrawal from Gaza this morning at 8:00 local time (5:00 GMT). This decision followed the setting of a 72-hour long humanitarian ceasefire and the achievement of most military objectives. The destruction of thirty-two tunnels that enabled Hamas militants to move into Israel undetected and the killing of “approximately 900 militants in combat” were the two main priorities. Besides, 3,000 rockets belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad were destroyed, announced the army spokesman Colonel Peter Lerner. The operation should however continue : "The Israel Defense Forces will be redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions," he added.
Prior to the ceasefire, fifty three last-minute rockets were still fired from Gaza towards the cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba, while an industrial digger rammed a bus in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem and an Israeli soldiers was shot near the Hebrew University. In parallel, Israel kept on launching air strikes over Gaza City until the ceasefire became effective. "It is clear now that the interest of all parties is to have a ceasefire. It's going to be tough negotiations because Israel has demands too," said Bassam Salhi, a member of the Hamas delegation.
After the failure of three prior attempts to reach an agreement, violence has stopped this morning between Israeli and Hamas forces. The proposal drafted by Egypt was doubled by an invitation to indirect negotiations in Cairo. "During those 72-hours there will be a delegation from Israel coming to Cairo. There will be indirect negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli sides for a ceasefire and the lift of a siege on Gaza and other Palestinian demands," declared Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan. He added that negotiations are this time set on a clear agenda that encouraged the organisation to agree. The Palestinian demands were determined in Cairo on Monday 4 August and transmitted to the Israeli delegation - they include the extension of fishing rights up to 12 nautical miles, the lifting of the blockade, freeing prisoners and the reconstruction of Gaza. Although delegations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were already in the Egyptian capital to discuss the conditions of a truce, the Israeli delegation is expected to arrive in the next hours. The previous Egyptian proposals had been turned down by Hamas on 14 July and 21 July, saying the organisation had not be consulted upstream.
Since July 8th, more than 1800 Palestinians and 67 Israelis died in the clashes. Gaza’s infrastructure, including electricity, water and sewage systems, was severely damaged while about 260,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million people has been displaced by the fighting. The large majority of civilians who deceased in the conflict - 75% according to UN estimates - as well as renewed destruction of UN buildings, drew sharp criticism of the Israeli operation from the United Nations but also from traditional allies such as the United States. In addition, Spain and the United Kingdom had decided on Monday to freeze arms exports to Israel while Australian Foreign Minister denounced the shelling of United Nations schools as "indefensible."
After the ceasefire announcement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed “the proactive engagement of the Palestinian delegation under the leadership of President Abbas." The upcoming negotiations will only give birth to lasting a peace agreement if both Israeli government and Hamas leaders convince their supporters and the wider public union that this war has brought them victory.
Author : Laura Gounon