x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Gaza peace deal agreed to end 50 days of fighting

Hamas declares victory though Israel makes few new concessions in open-ended ceasefire deal that includes further talks within a month.

Palestinians wave the national flag as they gather is the streets of Gaza City on August 26, 2014, to celebrate a long-term truce agreed between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Mohammed Abed / AFP
Palestinians wave the national flag as they gather is the streets of Gaza City on August 26, 2014, to celebrate a long-term truce agreed between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Mohammed Abed / AFP

GAZA CITY // Israel and Hamas agreed on Tuesday to an open-ended ceasefire to end a seven-week war that killed more than 2,200 people, mostly Palestinian civilians, left tens of thousands homeless and devastated entire neighbourhoods.

Hamas declared victory and bursts of celebratory gunfire erupted across Gaza, even though the militants’ key demand that Israel and Egypt open the blockaded territory’s borders has not been met.

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel will ease imports into Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction. It also allows Palestinians to fish up to six nautical miles offshore, double the existing limit.

The peace deal calls for talks to begin in Cairo in a month on more complex issues, including building a seaport and airport in Gaza and Israel’s demand that Hamas disarm.

It is also expected to give the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas a fresh foothold in Gaza after losing control of the territory to the Islamist group in 2007.

Forces loyal to Mr Abbas may be posted at Gaza’s border crossings to allay fears by Israel and Egypt about renewed attempts by Hamas to smuggle weapons into the territory.

Israel is also concerned that material for reconstruction could be diverted by Hamas for military purposes. In the past two years Hamas has built a network of tunnels under the border.

Previous ceasefire deals have collapsed since the war began on July 8, and it was not clear if this one would hold. The truce took effect at 7pm local time, but violence persisted until the last minute.

In Israel, mortar shells fired from Gaza killed one man and seriously injured two people.

In Gaza, an Israeli airstrike 13 minutes before the ceasefire began collapsed a five-storey building in Beit Lahiya. Booms from Israeli strikes could be heard in Gaza after the truce was announced.

Mr Abbas said the end of the war underscored the need to find a permanent solution to the conflict with Israel.

“What’s next? Gaza has been subjected to three wars. Shall we expect another war in a year or two? Until when will this issue be without a solution?” he said in a televised address on Tuesday night.

Mr Abbas plans to ask the UN Security Council to insist on Israel’s withdrawal from all lands captured in the 1967 war to make way for an independent Palestinian state. He alluded to the plan in his speech.

“Today, I’m going to give the Palestinian leadership my vision for a solution and after that we will continue consultations with the international community,” he said.

“This vision must be clear and well defined and we are not going to an open-ended negotiation.”

As the ceasefire took hold, thousands of Palestinians flooded on to the streets of Gaza City, some firing into the air.

“Thank God the war is ended. I can’t believe I’m still alive with my kids,” said 32-year-old Maha Khaled. “It was a very harsh war. I never thought that we would see peace at the end.”

Mosques used their loudspeakers to broadcast celebratory chants of “God is greatest”.

“We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Israel and Egypt imposed the border blockade after the Hamas takeover of 2007. Under the restrictions, virtually all of Gaza’s 1.8 million people cannot trade or travel. Only a few thousand are able to leave the coastal territory every month.

During the war, Hamas had said it would cease fire only if the blockade were lifted.

However, Israeli pressure on the group has been escalating. Hamas is believed to be left with only a third of its initial rocket arsenal of 10,000.

On the Israeli side, 69 people have been killed, all but five of them soldiers. Thousands of Israelis living near Gaza have fled their homes, including in recent days when Gaza militants stepped up mortar fire on southern Israel.

The Gaza war stemmed from the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank by Hamas operatives in June, which triggered a massive Israeli arrest campaign in the West Bank, followed by an increase in rocket fire from Gaza.

Since the fighting began, Israel has launched about 5,000 airstrikes at Gaza, and Gaza militants have fired close to 4,000 rockets and mortars.

The war killed more than 2,140 Palestinians and injured more than 11,000, Palestinian health officials said.

The United Nations says about three quarters of the Palestinians killed have been civilians. Israeli strikes have destroyed or severely damaged more than 17,000 Gaza homes, according to UN estimates, leaving about 100,000 people homeless.

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse