Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli troops ‘withdraw from Gaza’ as both sides agree to new 72-hour Egyptian-brokered ceasefire
Senior military officials declared that the aims of the conflict, to destroy militants’ tunnels, had been achieved
Tuesday 05 August 2014
Israel carried out airstrikes on the blockaded Gaza Strip shortly before the start of a 72-hour ceasefire between the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, and Israel.
The Israeli military conducted the strikes on several targets in northern Gaza on Tuesday minutes before the truce took effect at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT).
The move drew an immediate response from the Palestinian resistance fighters who showered a barrage of rockets on several Israeli cities. However, there have been no reports of casualties on either side.
Israeli ground forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip ahead of the ceasefire, with an Israeli military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, claiming that their goal of destroying cross-border tunnels in Gaza had been completed.
He added that troops and tanks would be redeployed in positions outside the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, delegates from Israel and Hamas are to hold indirect talks in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to cement a longer-term deal during the course of the truce.
Hamas wants a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, an end to the Israeli siege of the costal enclave and the release of Hamas inmates held by Israel.
Gaza has been blockaded by Israel since June 2007. The enclave’s northern Erez crossing has been controlled by the Tel Aviv regime while its southern Rafah crossing by Egypt. Both crossings are closed.
Palestinians have been forced to dig tunnels under the crossings to bring in their basic goods like construction materials, food, and fuel.
At least 1,867 Palestinians, including around 430 children, have so far been killed and over 9,500 others injured since the Israeli military launched its recent offensive against the Gaza Strip on July 8. Tel Aviv says 64 Israelis have been killed in the war, while Hamas puts the number at more than 150.
Senior military officials declared that the aims of the conflict, to destroy militants’ tunnels, had been achieved, and that Israeli forces would have left Gaza before the beginning of a 72-hour truce, scheduled for this morning.
Israel and Hamas last night agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in Gaza.
Egypt’s plan is for a 72-hour-long truce to begin early on Tuesday and then for representatives of Israeli and Palestinian factions to attend talks in Cairo to negotiate a longer-term agreement.
Palestinian groups, including envoys of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, met the head of Egyptian intelligence in Cairo earlier on Monday to formulate a plan to end the violence.
A few hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet agreed to accept Egypt’s proposal.
“Israel has notified Egypt of its acceptance of its proposal for a ceasefire,” an official in Mr Netanyahu’s office confirmed.
Shortly afterwards, Hamas announced it would also agree to the ceasefire.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters: “Hamas told Egypt a short while ago of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm.”
Gaza officials say 1,834 Palestinians – most of them civilians – have been killed during the Israeli offensive and more than a quarter of the enclave’s 1.8 million residents have been displaced. As many as 3,000 Palestinian homes are said to have been destroyed or damaged.
Israel has lost 64 soldiers in combat and three civilians to Palestinian cross-border rocket and mortar fire that has emptied many of its southern villages.
Several previous truces barely held with each side refusing to accept terms put by the other, but this time, Egypt plans to convene the parties in negotiations for a longer term deal.
Israel-Gaza conflict: Israel takes brutal revenge on Rafah for the loss of a soldier
The air strike came after Israel declared another ceasefire: a missile hitting a home in the teeming centre of Gaza City, killing five people, including two children, amid fears that bombs will continue to rain down on a population with nowhere to escape even if Israel withdraws its ground forces.
On Monday night, those fears were only heightened when Israel ended its truce, which had covered only parts, and not all, of Gaza. “The campaign in the Gaza Strip goes on,” said the office of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “The operation will end only when a prolonged period of quiet and security is restored to Israel’s citizens.”
The statement came despite the plea of the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who hours earlier had broken off from an event commemorating the past carnage of the First World War to insist: “This slaughter, this killing, has got to end.”
But the Israeli military had always stressed that the humanitarian truce would be limited to seven hours and would not cover Rafah, where air, artillery and tank strikes began on Friday after Israel accused Hamas of kidnapping a soldier and killing two others in a suicide bombing.
It was subsequently confirmed that Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was killed in action. But there was no respite for Rafah, where a United Nations school was hit by a missile that killed 10, an attack the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called a “moral outrage and a criminal act”.
Operations continued yesterday with Israeli forces saying that, as well as hunting “terrorists”, they were destroying tunnels which had been used to launch rocket attacks.
There was violence across the border in Jerusalem, with police shooting dead a man who drove an excavator into a bus; a pedestrian was also killed. Hours later, a gunman shot and wounded a soldier near the Hebrew University before fleeing on a motorbike.
There were short but intense bursts of action during the night, with the Israeli military carrying out air and naval strikes. Daniel Mansour, a commander of Islamic Jihad, a militant group allied to, but not part of, Hamas, was killed in a targeted raid, the group said.
The survivors in one Palestinian family, the al-Bakaris, said they had no political connections and demanded to know why they had to suffer as neighbours and emergency services dug into the rubble in the hope of finding six people still missing. One of the bodies recovered was that of Ramadan, one of two brothers who owned the house.
His sister, Maha, was at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, watching over Ramadan’s three-year-old son, Ali, when she heard about her brother’s death. “My family, our people, are being slaughtered like animals,” she said. “This continues day after day, all the big leaders around the world say this must stop and then they do nothing. How many of the resistance have the Israelis killed? Look in the morgue and you will see the dead are children, women, old people. What has this little boy done to be hit by a bomb?”
Lying in his hospital bed, Ali stared ahead with frightened eyes. He had not spoken since being dug out of the rubble three hours earlier. Um Jihad al-Burai, whose house next door was damaged in the blast, said: “This will go on for months. So what if they withdraw their troops? They will just keep using their planes and bombs against us. They will kill us when they want to. We can’t go anywhere. They have kept us chained with the blockade. We cannot escape anywhere. We are trapped.”
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