A cease-fire?

There was an attack on an Israeli patrol alongside the Gaza border yesterday (Israeli media say a roadside explosion went off just on the Israeli side of the border), near Kissufim. One Israeli soldier was killed, and several wounded.

All crossings between Israel and Gaza were then closed (barring the entry and exit of journalists, who were given the right to travel through the Erez Terminal only when it is open … so the Israeli Supreme Court decision is not an independent right for press freedom of movement.)

Then, there were the Israeli responses: First, a home near Khan Younis was hit. Then, a man riding a motorcycle in the area was killed. Then, Israeli government officials said the response hadn’t come yet. Then, overnight, there were Israeli Air Force bombing raids, said to be directed at tunnels in or around Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

It has often been observed in this region that a cease-fire that can be disrupted by one act is hardly a cease-fire …

And, with many thanks to my friend and colleague in Geneva, Robert Parsons, for pointing this out: it should be noted that the French newspaper Le Figaro has asked an important question — which few if any other media has done — about whether or not the roadside bomb that caused yesterday’s explosion was placed BEFORE or AFTER the cease-fire, reporting that “Several minutes after the explosion of this bomb, which may or may not have been placed after the cease-fire, clashes were already occurring between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters in Khan Yunes. Israeli tanks and helicopters opened fire in the direction of Palestinian lands before an operation combed the area as Israeli aircraft flew over the sector. A Palestinian was killed in these clashes”…

[“Quelques minutes après l’explosion de cette bombe, dont on ignore si elle a été posée après le cessez-le-feu ou s’il s’agit d’un engin plus ancien, des accrochages se sont produits entre soldats israéliens et combattants palestiniens à Khan Younès”… The full report is posted here or ici, as we say in French .]

The two separate unilateral cease-fires announced by Israel and then by Hamas are supposed to be replaced by a “permanent” cease-fire which Egypt is trying to negotiate. There have been various leaks to the press about what exactly is at issue in these negotiations. One detail is the length of the “permanent” cease-fire (from one year to 18 months to ten years, according to different reports).

A report published on 25 January by the Israeli website Debka File, which has very talkative but anonymous intelligence sources (“we go beyond the news“), entitled “Egypt cracks the whip for Hamas in long-term truce talks”, reported that:
These are the conditions Cairo put before the Palestinian Islamist organization:
1. Hamas must pledge to halt all smuggling into the Gaza Strip, including arms.
2. It must accept a long-term truce for Gaza. DEBKAfile reports Israel is demanding 10-15 years, to be renewed every three or four, while Suleiman proposed a 10-year period.
3. Hamas armed men will respect a 1 km-off limits belt inside the Gazan-Israeli Israeli border fence, refrain from sniper fire and planting explosives.
4. Hamas must keep its distance from all Gaza’s crossings – 6 on the border with Israel, and one, the Rafah gateway to Egyptian Sinai.
5. The verbal abuse of Egypt must stop forthwith
This can be looked up on the site here.

The IDF spokesperson issued a statement this morning reporting that “IAF aircraft recently hit a number of Hamas smuggling tunnels on the Southern border of the Gaza Strip. This was in response to the attack against an IDF force in the area of Kissufim on the morning of January 27th, in which one IDF Warrant Officer was killed and three other IDF personnel were wounded, including one severe injury, when Palestinians detonated an explosive device against an IDF force patrolling on the Israeli side of the Gaza Strip security fence. Yesterday evening, IAF aircraft, using intelligence provided by the ISA, attacked a terror operative in Khan Younes, who was prominent in the organization responsible for the attack in Kissufim. The IDF sees Hamas as responsible for preserving the peace in Israel’s southern villages and will respond harshly to any attempt of undermining it”.

As many analysts have observed, Israel is in the count-down before a Feb 10 election in which the main two contenders are the present Foreign Minister and Vice Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader.

The Jerusalem Post reported today that “Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday that Israel will no longer show restraint against Palestinian attacks from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip…’We need to change the rules of the game until they learn that the rules have changed and the equation has changed’, she added … ‘For me an agreement with Hamas is not an option’, she concluded. Likud chair Binyamin Netanyahu also responding to the fatal attack on Tuesday, saying, ‘Sooner or later we will need to finish the job in Gaza, and that we will do’. Speaking at an event opening the Likud election campaign, Netanyahu called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to order ‘an immediate strike with an iron fist’.” These remarks are contained in this JPost article here

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