Thursday, 13 Dec 2018

The ceasefire brokered by Egypt holds out for violence in the Gaza Strip

Hamas said Saturday it had agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza after a day of violence claimed the lives of an Israeli soldier and four Palestinians

The Egyptian intelligence-brokered ceasefire was announced by local media.

Israel launched air strikes on military targets in response to the death of the soldier. Gaza residents report explosions in the south of the blocked coastal enclave, and Hamas said four Palestinians have been killed in the attacks.

Hamas fired rockets and grenades at Israel until the ceasefire came into force.

The soldier who was not named was the first Israeli death since mass demonstrations began at the border fence in late March. Since then, Israeli snipers have killed more than 130 Palestinians and shot thousands more.

"What we are seeing is a cumulative effect of Hamas-led, funded and organized violence, which has escalated in recent weeks," said Lieutenant Colonel Jonathon Conricus of the Israeli Defense Unit.

"The Egyptian and United Nations have agreed to return to the era of calm between [Israel] and Palestinian factions," said Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for the Islamist Hamas group that controls Gaza, told Reuters.

Israel has blocked the enclave for over a decade, capturing two million Palestinians in a 23-km strip. Since then, trade with the outside world has largely collapsed, leaving many in need of international food aid. Israel also controls the airspace and limits how far fishing boats can venture into the Mediterranean.

Egypt joined the blockade after a coup in 2013 overthrew an Islamist government in Cairo. Egypt hopes to drive Hamas out and replace it with the secular Fatah movement that controls the West Bank. Amas is considered a terrorist group of Israel, the US and the EU.

But Israel and Egypt, acting as mediators and bringing about at least three ceasefire agreements with Hamas this year, have sought to curb the mass protests that began with tens of thousands of mostly peaceful Palestinians near the border fence every Friday.

Israeli officials, worried about attempts to break the border and enter Israel, positioned nearly a hundred snipers at the fence, who regularly opened fire on the crowd.

Israel said it only targeted those who posed a threat to the fence or Israeli security, but eyewitnesses, human rights groups and journalists documented dozens of cases of gunmen shooting unarmed people, including one nurse, several Palestinian Reporters and other young men shot in the back.

These protests were followed by a ritual of balloons, dragons and helium-filled condoms with burning strips of fabric or small Molotov cocktails, which were carried up from the Gaza Strip and brought to Israel.

They started hundreds of fires and destroyed thousands of acres of forest and farmland in Israel. Missiles or mortars fired from the Gaza Strip hit a synagogue last week and injured three. Hardliner ministers demand that the children and youth throwing balloons be killed.

Instead, the IDF has been putting pressure on Hamas over the last two weeks, and has hit military targets each time an Israeli-side balloon causes fire. Last Saturday, the IDF carried out the largest number of air strikes since the 2014 war.

That seemed to work until the killing of the soldier last night with fewer balloons or fires on Friday.

"Everyone in Gaza must step back," tweeted UN-Middle East Envoy Nickolay Mladenov, one of the parties seeking to establish a truce. "Not next week, not tomorrow, now, those who want to provoke Palestinians and Israelis to another war must not succeed."

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