Israel Considers Gaza Truce Deal

  on November 19 2012 11:45 PM
Israel Gaza 19 Nov 2012 tank 2
Israeli soldiers stand near a mobile artillery unit after it fired a shell towards northern Gaza. Reuters

Hopes for a truce in the Israel-Gaza conflict rose Monday night when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened Cabinet members to discuss the details of what was said to be a multiphase, multiyear cease-fire agreement, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Israel’s Ynet News said Netanyahu convened the nine top ministers to discuss an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire that would halt the attack on Gaza. Israel has agreed not to launch a ground offensive until the negotiations are exhausted, Ynet said.

The Al-Arabiya network reported that a cease-fire could go into effect within 24 hours. It said Israeli officials who are taking part in the talks in Cairo have returned to Israel for consultations.

Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip continued into Tuesday morning, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.  Rocket attacks on Israel also resumed, but no injuries were reported.

Hamas' Health Ministry said 107 people had been killed in Gaza, including more than two dozen children. At least 850 people had been wounded. Three Israeli civilians have died.

There was also movement toward a possible intensification of the bloodshed as Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said Israel had finished its planning for a ground invasion of Gaza, CNN reported.

If Israeli troops do invade, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said it would "not be a picnic."

"We do not want escalation, nor do we call for a ground war," he said in Cairo Monday. "But we are not afraid of it, nor will we back down."

Three U.S. Navy amphibious warships were returning to the eastern Mediterranean to remain on standby in the event they are needed to assist Americans leaving Israel in the coming days, US officials told CNN.

The officials stressed an evacuation remains an extremely remote possibility and the Obama administration is not currently planning for one. Americans who wish to leave the region now are able to do so using commercial airlines.  

Officials in Egypt, where the talks were under way, expressed cautious optimism. Arab League leaders and U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was visiting the region, were trying to help negotiate a deal. The White House said President Barack Obama, who is visiting Asia, called Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Monday.

Israel is seeking assurances from Egypt that Hamas will halt rocket fire into Israel and not be allowed to rebuild the weapon caches that Israel has destroyed in recent days. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, wants an end to the land and sea blockade that has crippled its economy, and to targeted killings of its leaders by Israel.

On Monday, Ban and an Israeli delegation went to Egypt, where that nation's top intelligence official presented Israel a letter outlining Hamas' proposal for a cease-fire, said a general in Egyptian intelligence who is optimistic about a deal being reached, CNN reported. The fighting has challenged Israel's relationship with Egypt, yet Israeli President Shimon Peres on Monday praised Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi for playing a "constructive role."

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor confirmed late Monday that "negotiations are going on" that may lead to a cease-fire, though he didn't offer any details.

Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby and 16 foreign ministers from the league's member states were to arrive in Gaza on Tuesday, to be joined by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a spokesman for the organization said.

A small number of wounded Palestinians are being treated in Israeli hospitals, Jerusalem Post said, as hospitals in Gaza run short of supplies and wounded people keep pouring in. The director general of the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City told Al-Jazeera around 400 victims came in in the first four days of the airstrikes. "What would have been enough for one week will be consumed in a few hours," he said.

Despite the high Palestinian death toll, the Israel Defense Force released videos it said showed the air force aborting missions because civilians were in the way. In the days since the assassination of the head of Hamas's military wing, Ahmed Jabari, Israel has struck 800 targets in Gaza and Hamas and other Palestinian factions has fired 500 rockets back, Al-Jazeera said.

Israel's Iron Dome Defense system, first deployed in March 2011, has proved to be more effective than expected, having intercepted some 300 of the rockets fired at Israel, the New York Times reported. The individual Iron Dome units, called "batteries" and designed by the Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, consist of a radar unit and 60 missiles that are able to track and intercept incoming short-range rockets and 155mm artillery shells. Each battery of the Iron Dome is able to defend 150 square kilometers (about 93 square miles), Jerusalem Post said. Each missile in the battery costs between $40,000 and $50,000, according to the Times, and are thus designed only to intercept missiles headed for populated areas. Over the past for years the United States has given Israel $274 million for more batteries, and has pledged $610 million more. 

Most of Hamas's rockets, Iranian Fajr-5s, were destroyed early in an air strike, are now being shipped and smuggled into Gaza piecemeal from Iran, the Times reported. They have a range of 45 miles (72 kilometers). Hamas's rocket-launching sites are in the middle of population centers in Gaza City, the Algemeiner reported

The IDF similarly accused Hamas of deliberately hiding behind its citizens and endangering them by firing from densely populated areas. They also said Hamas had fired more than 500 rockets into Israel, about 10 percent of which misfire and end up landing in Gaza, the Jerusalem Post reported.

On Sunday the Israeli Foreign Ministry reported the IDF had targeted two buildings in Gaza used to house foreign media. The ministry claimed the strike was "clean," and that the building was hiding four members of Islamic Jihad, the Jerusalem Post said. All four were killed. 

Even though Israel and Hamas consider each other fundamentally illegitimate, any internationally endorsed truce would usher in a new phase in their relationship. Previously Israel and Hamas have refused direct negotiations, occasionally reaching informal agreements -- like the one that freed kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit -- brokered through intermediaries.

There are sizable risks for both sides, but also opportunities, Doron Avital, a lawmaker with Israel's centrist Kadima party and a former commander of an elite military unit, told the LA Times.

Hamas would win some of the international legitimacy it craves, but it would also need to moderate its behavior, just as the Palestine Liberation Organization did after signing the Oslo peace accords in 1993.

"It might elevate the status of Hamas, but that will also mean that Hamas will have to play realpolitik," Avital said. "It can't stay a terrorist organization forever. There's an interesting potential here."

 

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