UN, Egypt Struggling to Preserve Hamas Cease-fire as Israel Denies Deal Exists

Security cabinet members will meet again on Sunday to discuss the escalation in Gaza ■ Israeli official tells Haaretz: 'We did not commit with the mediators on a cease-fire'

Palestinian mourners carrying the body of paramedic Abdullah al-Qutati, who was shot to death during a protest at the Gaza border, August 11, 2018.
Khalil Hamra,AP

Delegations working on behalf of the UN's Middle East envoy Nikolay Mladenov and Egyptian leadership worked over the weekend to preserve the cease-fire deal between Hamas and Israel.

The deal, which was denied by Israel, has been upheld between both parties for now. Security cabinet members will convene again on Sunday to discuss the escalation in Gaza.

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According to diplomatic sources, a UN delegation visited the Strip on Saturday, where it stayed for several hours while maintaining contacts with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office and Israel's defense establishment. The cease-fire came into effect on Thursday at 11 P.M. The premier's office denied this; however, calm has been maintained.

Netanyahu's office said that the calm is a result of a unilateral cease-fire by Hamas, adding that at no stage since the escalation Thursday did Israel promise mediators from the UN and Egypt that it would stop firing or that it wouldn't respond if firing resumed.

An official source told Haaretz: "We did not commit with the mediators on a cease-fire. We are in a campaign in which there is an exchange of blows."

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The cease-fire, defined by the UN as a temporary lull, doesn't include broader agreements the envoy has been trying to advance in recent months. The broader arrangement between the Palestinians and Israel would include the lifting restrictions at the Kerem Shalom commerical crossing, and the fishing area in Gaza. This would be in parallel to a cessation of incendiary balloon and kite launchings from Gaza.

The second stage of negotiations would include prisoner exchanges, including the remains of IDF soldiers in return for promoting humanitarian projects in Gaza, with funding by the international community. This stage, however, depends mainly on intra-Palestinian reconciliation. The Palestinian Authority would take responsibility for projects in Gaza, as requested by Israel, though it has yet to advance to the satisfaction of both parties.

Senior cabinet members told Haaretz last week that if a deal doesn't happen, there is likely to be another round of violence, and there was. Officials say that the current calm will not be sustainable without long-term agreement in Gaza.