Israel accepts Palestinian proposal for Gaza cease-fire

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olment’s Media Adviser announced on Saturday night that a comprehensive cease-fire will enter into force [in Gaza] at 06:00 today (Sunday) 26.11.06. According to the Israeli Government press release, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas telephoned the Israeli Prime Minister “to inform him that he had reached agreement with all Palestinian factions to halt all violent actions from the Gaza Strip including rocket fire, the digging of tunnels, and the dispatch of suicide terrorists.”

There was no apparent UN involvement in this effort at crisis-resolution.

The Israeli press release stated that “PA Chairman Abbas told Prime Minister Olmert that all Palestinian organizations have committed to the foregoing and said that he expects that Israel will halt its military activity in the Gaza Strip in response and will withdraw its forces from the Strip”.

Israel had completed a unilateral withdrawal on 12 September 2005, before re-entering Gaza in June, after Palestinian fighters captured an Israeli soldier just over the border near the closed Gaza International Airport.

The Israeli press release said that there were Israeli Govenment consultations after the Palestinian President’s call: “Prime Minster Olmert consulted with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and other ministers, and with senior security establishment commanders, and informed PA Chairman Abbas that since Israel has been active in the Gaza Strip in response to terrorist actions, in light of the ceasefire, Israel would halt its military actions and withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip in the hope that the cessation of violent activity will last and serve both sides.”

The Israel press release added that “The two men agreed to continue to discuss the expansion of the cessation of violent activity to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] in the future. They also agreed to speak again soon to continue these measures.”

The UN had no apparent role in this development.

Just a few hours earlier, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement blasting a remark made on 21 November by UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Konig Abu Zayd for referring to daily firing of Kassam rockets “and mortar shells” from the Gaza Stip, by using the “ostensibly naive” phrase of “homemade rockets”.

This reflects “a forgiving attitude toward the firing of Kassams”, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said, and it also minimizes “the danger and threat faced by Israeli civilians”. An Israeli civilian was killed last week in Sderot by a Kassam rocket, the Israeli Foreign Ministry Statement said.

The statement added that “the commissioner-general would do well to remember to insist that the Palestinian Authority honor the demands of the international community, which are anchored in a decision of the Security Council: to renounce terrorism, to recognize Israel, and to honor agreements signed with Israel.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry statement concluded that “the commissioner-general’s words do not contribute to the cessation of terrorism, which is the key to improving the living conditions of the Palestinian population”.

On Sunday morning, news agency reports that Israel had pulled all of its forces out of Gaza and re-grouped them at a staging point just north of the border, but Palestinian rocket attacks continued. AP says that Hamas claimed that it was continuing firing rockets because there were still Israeli troops in Gaza, despite Israel’s claim to the contrary. Islamic Jihad was also still firing rockets according to AP, suggesting either that its leaders were not in full control of the group, or that there were communication problems.

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had ordered restraint, at least for a few hours, AP reported.

On Sunday afternoon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a “Behind the Scene” note, stating that “Israel has begun withdrawing all of its forces from the Gaza Strip”.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry note stated that “This decision was taken in an effort on Israel’s part both to bring about a calming of the situation and as a signal of Israel’s readiness to contribute to an improvement in the security and political condition of the region”. Tres bien [Very good]. One wonders, however, why it has taken so long to achieve Israeli readiness on this point.

There must have been some heavy arm-twisting (and not from the UN) behind the scenes to have brought this about.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry also wrote that “Israel is interested in maintaining a cease-fire as a means to end the violence and to enable progress in the political negotiations”. This is something many Palestinians have been calling for, for a long time.

But, the Israeli Foreign Ministry notes: “Israel is knowingly undertaking the risk that the terrorist organizations will exploit the cease-fire to rearm and to rebuild their infrastructure“.

And, the note warns: “that if the Palestinians do not observe the cease-fire completely, Israel will have no choice but to respond. It does not matter which organization carries out the firing — the obligation to observe the cease-fire absolutely applies to the Palestinian Authority, which bears the responsibility to enforce it without exception”.

For an interesting article giving some background on the situation in the oPt (occupied Palestinian territory, which is the official UN terminology for the West Bank and Gaza, occupied by Israel in June 1967 — based onĂ‚ the 1993-1995 “Oslo Accords”, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which insist that the West Bank and Gaza form one territorial unit), please see FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) Extra! of September-October 2006, Nixed Signals: When Hamas hinted at peace, U.S. media wouldn’t take the message, by Seth Ackerman here.

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