Israel and Hamas agree to a cease-fire

Core issues remain unresolved after 50 days of fighting

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JERUSALEM — After 50 days of fighting that took some 2,200 lives, leveled large areas of the Gaza Strip and paralyzed Israel’s south for the summer, Israeli and Palestinian leaders reached an open-ended cease-fire agreement Tuesday that promised only limited change to conditions in Gaza and left unresolved the broader issues underpinning the conflict.

Hamas, the militant Islamist faction that dominates Gaza, declared victory even though it had abandoned most of its demands, ultimately accepting an Egyptian-brokered deal that differs little from one proffered on the battle’s seventh day. In effect, the deal put both sides back where they were at the end of eight days of fighting in 2012, with terms that called for easing but not lifting Israeli restrictions on travel, trade and fishing in Gaza.

In Israel, continual barrages of rocket fire and fears about starting school Monday without a cease-fire had increased pressure on the government from citizens exhausted by what had become a war of attrition. Yuval Steinitz, a senior Israeli minister, said in a television interview Tuesday night that he accepted the cease-fire “with a sour taste of missed opportunity.”

“We did not want this violence, and we did not want this war,” he said. “This is a reasonable arrangement.”

In Gaza City, Gaza Strip, “God is great” blared from mosque loudspeakers and celebratory gunshots exploded in the air, as hundreds waved the green flags of Hamas, while displaced residents raced on mattress-laden auto rickshaws and donkey carts back to damaged or destroyed homes in border areas.

“We declare the victory of the Palestinian resistance, the victory of Gaza,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri announced at Al Shifa Hospital. “We achieved some of our instantaneous demands out of this battle. We become closer to Jerusalem and our Palestinian lands.”

A statement from Egypt’s foreign ministry describing the deal included only vague language about “the aspirations of the Palestinian people” and the need to create “an independent Palestinian state to achieve peace and security in the region.” Hamas’ call for a seaport and airport in Gaza, and Israel’s call for demilitarization of the coastal territory — along with an exchange of Israeli soldiers’ remains for Palestinians in Israeli prisons — were put off for discussion within a month, if the truce holds.

“We are all aware that this is an opportunity, not a certainty,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. He described “certain bedrock outcomes” as essential to a long-term solution, saying Israel needed to live “without terrorist attacks, without rockets, without tunnels, without sirens going off and families scrambling to bomb shelters,” and that Palestinians required “full economic and social opportunities to build better lives for themselves and for their children.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the cease-fire, but said in a statement, “The blockade of Gaza must end; Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed.” He warned, “Any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence.”

The agreement followed a week of renewed fighting after the collapse of an earlier cease-fire. Israel killed several top Hamas military commanders and felled three high-rise buildings in audacious airstrikes, while more than 100 Palestinian rockets a day pounded Israel’s battered south.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed since the operation began July 8. Most of them were civilians, including two young siblings struck in their car in the southern city of Khan Younis moments before the cease-fire took effect at 7 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and six civilians were killed, including two men felled by a mortar that exploded near a swimming pool in a kibbutz just outside Gaza around 6 p.m., the military said.

“The human catastrophe is just very immense, it’s getting worse and worse every day, and I think that’s one of the reasons Hamas took into consideration in accepting the cease-fire,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. “The mood is very critical of Israel, but they are also asking questions of Hamas: Why did we have to go through all this? Why is there no cease-fire? Why did we provoke Israel into this war? More and more questions are in the minds of the Palestinians, especially in this last week.”

In Israel, support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance dropped by more than half this weekend from a high of more than 8 in 10 Israeli Jews in the battle’s early days, according to polls conducted for Channel 2 News.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose stature fell throughout the conflict, promised Tuesday a new diplomatic initiative to accompany the cease-fire. His allies said it would demand international guarantees for a clear deadline to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, bypass U.S.-brokered peace talks and use U.N. institutions and the International Criminal Court in The Hague as leverage.

“The vision should be very clear, very specific and understood from A to Z,” Mr. Abbas said as he convened an evening meeting of 52 Palestinian leaders at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, “because engaging in vague negotiations is something we cannot continue to do.”

The agreement restores the 6-nautical-mile fishing zone off Gaza’s coast that Israel agreed to in 2012, but later cut back. It also says Israeli-controlled border crossings will be opened to allow the “quick entry” of humanitarian aid and materials to reconstruct Gaza, where more than 11,000 homes and scores of schools and mosques have been reduced to rubble.

A senior Israeli official said the entry of cement and concrete would be monitored to ensure that it was used for civilian purposes, because “we’re not interested in allowing Hamas to rebuild its military machine.”

Criticism of the cease-fire came from Israel’s right and left. “I ask myself, ‘What have we accomplished?’” Danny Danon, a leader of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party who is often at odds with the prime minister, said on Army Radio.

israel - egypt - Middle East - Africa - John Kerry - Mahmoud Abbas - Jerusalem - Palestinian territories - Ban Ki-Moon - North Africa - Israeli armed forces - Israel government - Danny Danon - Palestinian territories government - West Bank - Gaza Strip - Egypt government - Benjamin Netanyahu - Ramallah - Hamas - Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi - Gaza


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