Egyptian mediators are trying to build on the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas
© Reuters. Palestinians walk on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s old town on May 21, 2021. REUTERS / Ammar Awad TPX PICTURES OF THE DAY
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams (NYSE 🙂
GAZA / JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Egyptian mediators on Saturday attempted to reinforce a one-day ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants and aid officials called for a period of calm after 11 days of fighting to begin addressing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
The ceasefire, which began on Friday before dawn, lasted Saturday evening, allowing officials to assess the extent of the damage.
Despite confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at a holy site in Jerusalem on Friday, there were no reports of Hamas rocket launches from Gaza or Israeli air strikes on the Palestinian enclave overnight or on Saturday.
Rockets fired by Hamas and other militant Islamist groups paralyzed cities in southern Israel during the hostilities and caused widespread panic, but did much less damage than the bombing of Gaza.
Palestinian officials are raising the cost of reconstruction to tens of millions of dollars in Gaza, where medical professionals say 248 people were killed in the fighting.
A senior UN official who toured the densely populated coastal enclave on Saturday warned of increased health risks and widespread despair after homes, roads and other critical infrastructure, including hospitals, were damaged or destroyed.
“Everyone has to just step back and not engage in provocative steps,” said Lynn Hastings, United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian Territories, speaking to survivors in a rubble-strewn area in Gaza City.
Economists said Israel’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic could be slowed by hostilities, and medical professionals said rocket attacks killed 13 people in Israel before the ceasefire.
After Egypt brokered the ceasefire with US support, it sent a delegation to Israel on Friday to discuss ways to consolidate the ceasefire, including with aid to Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas officials told Reuters.
The delegates have been commuting between Israel and Gaza since then and met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Saturday, said an aide to the Palestinian leader.
A source familiar with the planning said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel and the West Bank on Wednesday and Thursday in hopes of building on the ceasefire. Mahmoud, however, has little influence over Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.
US President Joe Biden said Thursday that Washington would work with the United Nations to bring humanitarian aid and reconstruction aid to Gaza, with safeguards against means of arming Hamas, which the West sees as a terrorist organization.
The United Nations Security Council on Saturday called for “full compliance” with the ceasefire and stressed the immediate need for humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians.
The 15-member council issued a statement that had to be agreed by mutual agreement after being unable to speak during the 11-day conflict due to opposition from the United States.
In response, the Israel Foreign Ministry said it was “very unfortunate” that the Security Council “ignored the launch of over 4,000 rockets at Israeli civilians from populated areas in the Gaza Strip.”
In order to build on the ceasefire, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell called on Israel and the Palestinians on Saturday to return to meaningful negotiations on a two-state solution that had been deadlocked for years.
“The EU cannot be expected to fund the reconstruction of Gaza again without a meaningful prospect of an actual solution to the underlying conflict,” Borrell wrote in a blog post.
After their trip to Gaza, the United Nations Hastings expressed confidence that the aid mechanisms in place in Gaza would “ensure that aid does not fall into the hands it should not be directed to.”
Gaza has been facing an Israeli blockade for years, restricting the passage of people and goods as well as Egypt’s restrictions.
Both countries have raised concerns about weapons reaching Hamas. Palestinians say the restrictions amount to collective punishment for Gaza’s 2 million residents.
Hastings said she was concerned that after the demolition of many residential buildings, people would be crammed into overcrowded shelters more than ever.
“During COVID it was bad enough here, there was a massive spike just before the escalation. Now people are protecting themselves together,” she said.
Israel says its air strikes were in response to Hamas firing rockets at Israeli cities on May 10 after Israeli police officers clashed with Palestinians on sacred grounds in east Jerusalem and during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“If we get out of this operation with a longer period of peace, it will be good for the Israeli civilian population and also for the Palestinians in Gaza,” said Mark Regev, a senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said later on Saturday he would meet with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry soon after they spoke on Friday.
“I stressed to him that any future agreement must include guarantees on security issues and political principles,” Ashkenazi said on his Twitter page, adding that it included “stopping Hamas’ armament.”