Gaza Cease-fire, Prisoner Swap and Seaport: Details of Israel-Hamas Deal Emerge

Understanding, approved by all minister but Bennett and Shaked, includes six phases to be implemented gradually

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A picture taken on August 9, 2018 shows people inspecting the rubble of a building following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City
A picture taken on August 9, 2018 shows people inspecting the rubble of a building following an Israeli air strike on Gaza CityCredit: AFP

A deal negotiated between Israel and Hamas via UN and Egyptian mediation, whose first stage went into effect on Wednesday, entails a commitment to rebuild the Gaza Strip's infrastructure and a prisoner swap to secure the release of Israeli civilians and soldiers' remains held by the Palestinian organization.

The terms are essentially identical to those established after the 2014 war in Gaza and are similar to those agreed upon after the 2012 military campaign in the Strip. Defense officials and the Prime Minister's Office thus prefer to refer to it as a return to the status quo before the escalation in tensions that began several months ago, with the start of weekly protests at the Gaza-Israel.

>> In nearing deal with Israel on Gaza, Hamas wins achievements through military resistance / Analysis

Three senior Israeli officials told Haaretz that the understanding includes six main clauses to be implemented gradually provided that peace is fully maintained: A comprehensive cease-fire; the reopening of Gaza's border crossings and expansion of the permitted fishing zone; medical and humanitarian assistance; a resolution to the issue of captive soldiers, missing civilians and prisoners; a broad reconstruction of Gaza's infrastructure, with foreign funding; and discussions about sea and air ports in Gaza.

An Israeli official with knowledge about the details of the contacts said: "Only to the extent that the quiet is maintained for an extended period will Israel agree to discuss the humanitarian projects that depend upon Israel, on the condition that negotiations are also undertaken to return [the bodies of Israeli soldiers being held in Gaza and two Israelil civilians being held there.] The media reports of a sea pier involves subjects that came up in their talks with the mediators, but there is no consensus on that in Israel."

Last week, the security cabinet approved continuing talks about the initiative. The only ministers publicly known to have expressed any opposition in the discussions were Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, both of Habayit Hayehudi.

The first stage of the agreement – a truce in exchange for the opening of border crossings and expansion of the fishing zone – was worked out under the guidance of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, even though he flatly denied any agreement was being struck in media interviews. Netanyahu's bureau also rejected public responsibility for the understanding, choosing not to publish an official statement on the issue.

Senior Hamas official Taher al-Nunu denied the reports of an emerging Israel-Hamas deal. Nunu, who heads Hamas information's department, said the talks being held in Cairo are only an internal Palestinian matter, involving resistance organizations, and at a later stage, PLO factions.

"All the talk of an agreement that depends on Israel's goodwill is a delusion and a lie," he said.

Hamas confirmed that Salah Arouri, the deputy head of Hamas's political bureau and other senior officials were engaged in talks with Palestinian representatives in Cairo about finding a humanitarian outlet in the Strip and the issue of calm with Israel and Palestinian reconciliation.

Musa Abu Marzouk, a member of Hamas's political bureau, said that representatives of the organization have been holding talks in Cairo sponsored by Egypt since Wednesday with faction representatives.

Abu Marzouk said the talks were advancing toward reaching a national Palestinian agreement about calm with Israel that would ensure Palestinian interests and preserve the unity of the resistance forces as well.

Despite the denials, the atmosphere in Gaza and the conduct of the representatives shows there's an effort underway to achieve calm.

An activist with the Popular Front told Haaretz that Hamas as they have been saying, are trying to achieve a common front vis a vis an agreement and that no decision has been taken by the organization on its own. They are avoiding issuing any declarations on the issue, in an effort to be able to present a deal agreed upon by all.

In parallel senior Hamas official Khalil Alhaya called anew on Thursday to the masses to head to the fence on Friday to participate in the March of Return, which he called a part of a popular struggle with the goal of achieving an end to the blockade

While the deal broaches a potential future discussion about the return of captive Israelis and soldiers' remains, a political source told reporters on Wednesday that "there will be no real arrangement with Hamas without the return of our sons and civilians and a the promise of prolonged calm." According to this source, "the current calm is the result of tough IDF operations, which will continue as needed. The calm was achieved following the understandings promoted by Egypt and the UN. In light of this, operation of the Kerem Shalom crossing was resumed and the fishing zone was expanded. As long as this commitment is maintained, humanitarian issues, including the return of our sons and civilians, can be addressed."

Also Thursday, Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese network Al Mayadeen reported that the terms of the emerging Israel-Hamas deal include a year-long cease-fire, operation of a shipping route between Cyprus and the Gaza Strip, and Qatari funding for fuel in the impoverished enclave.

The deal would also entail Qatari payment of Hamas officials' salaries, according to the report, while the sea lane between Gaza and Cyprus would be under Israeli supervision, according to the report in Al Mayadeen.

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