Israel, Palestinians Agree to 72-hour Cease-fire

Agreement to take effect at 8 A.M.; Israeli delegation expected in Cairo for talks on more permanent deal.

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Israeli soldiers near the border as they return from Gaza, August 4, 2012.
Israeli soldiers near the border as they return from Gaza, August 4, 2012.Credit: AFP

Israel agreed to an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip beginning at 8:00 A.M. on Tuesday morning, according to senior Israeli officials. The unconditional cease-fire will last for 72 hours, with a possibility for extension. During the coming days, an Israeli delegation will set out for Cairo for talks on a more permanent cease-fire agreement.

The senior official stated, “if the cease-fire lasts, there will not be a need for a continued IDF presence within the Gaza Strip,” meaning that the IDF forces that have remained in Gaza will likely return to Israeli territory a few hours after the cease-fire goes into effect.

Palestinian officials said they expected progress in the cease–fire talks in Cairo and that "the ball is in Israel's court."

Most of the Israeli security cabinet ministers first heard news of the cease-fire from the media. Slightly before 11:00 P.M. on Monday night, National Security Advisor Yossi Cohen called the cabinet ministers to inform them of the cease-fire deal, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to the Egyptian proposal.

The issue was not put to a vote during this round of phone calls to cabinet ministers. “There was no need for additional approval from the cabinet, after it already approved a cease-fire last week,” said the senior official. “As long as the latest Egyptian proposal matched the proposal Israel had already accepted, it did not need further approval.”

Despite the fact that it was not put to a vote, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett told Cohen that he opposes the cease-fire deal, and that it contradicted a previous cabinet decision, made only three days ago, that there would be no more contact with Hamas aimed at reaching a solution.

A Palestinian source in the delegation in Cairo also reported that Israel had agreed to the Egyptian–brokered cease-fire.

In contrast with earlier cease-fire attempts, commanders in Gaza have not published statements regarding their positions on this cease-fire, and it appears as if they are abiding by the declarations coming out of Cairo.

An official close to Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas said “the ball is in Israel’s court, the next step is preserving the cease-fire, and keeping all issues on the negotiating table.”

The Palestinian officials in Cairo reported on Monday night that Egypt has asked that Israel send a delegation to Cairo as soon as possible after the cease-fire takes effect. Officials in Cairo believe that an Israeli delegation will arrive on Tuesday.

Palestinian officials said they have agreed to leave certain demands to be dealt with at a later date, such as building air and seaports for Gaza, as well as allowing for travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. At this point, the Palestinians have agreed to focus on the two primary issues of a cease-fire and opening the border crossings, as well as expanding the area in which fishing is allowed and lifting the restriction on entering the Gaza territory that lies close to the Israeli border.

The Palestinians reported that the United States has been involved in the efforts as well. At this point, it is unclear if the Palestinians will rescind their demand to release prisoners, or simply postpone it for a later date to be discussed along with the other issues. Islamic Jihad second in command Ziad Nahala said on Monday evening that he expects progress to be made, and a cease-fire to be declared during the next few hours. Nahala stated that significant progress was made during a meeting with the head of Egypt’s intelligence service, and that Egypt has adopted the Palestinians’ demands. At the same time, however, Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al-Aksa Brigades, stated on Monday night that they intend to ramp up rocket fire on Israel during the next few hours, until Israel gives in to the opposition’s demands.

A Palestinian source accompanying the delegation in Cairo said that opening the Rafah crossing is an internal Palestinian-Egyptian issue, which is not on the agenda for discussion by the delegation or the Egyptian leadership. According to the source, if talks with Israel do not give rise to an opening of the border crossings, the Palestinians will demand that the Rafah crossing be opened to enable the entry of humanitarian aid.

Senior Israeli officials stated that Israel is prepared for the possibility that Hamas might violate the cease-fire. “We call on the IDF and the Israeli public to remain alert, in light of the suspicions that Hamas might try to record an achievement by tomorrow at 8 o’clock,” they said.

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