March 2, 2024
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Ceasefire Extended for 120 Hours as Rockets and Retaliation Continue

CAIRO—Egyptian news sources reported that late Wednesday night Israelis and Palestinians agreed to extend the ceasefire for an additional five days. This is the third ceasefire Egypt has brokered since Operation Protective Edge began, after intense, indirect, talks held in Cairo. The 72-hour truce that ended at midnight on Wednesday was mediated by Egypt.

Hamas conditions for a permanent truce, most of them rejected by Israel, include lifting the blockade against the Strip; opening the border crossings; releasing the 50 Hamas activists who were rearrested during the search for the three kidnapped teenagers and those who were supposed to be released in a previous prisoner swap; allowing the establishment of a seaport and an airport in Gaza; extending the sea miles limit, and holding an international donor conference for Gaza reconstruction—among other conditions.

The Israelis, who left Cairo about five hours before the 72-hour ceasefire ended on Wednesday at midnight, stayed mum. Earlier in the day Hamas leaders in Gaza announced both parties “are very close to an agreement.”

But the truce was broken just before midnight on Wednesday when the sirens again sounded in the western Negev and the south. This attack came shortly after the 120-hour truce extension was announced by Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Palestinian delegation in Cairo. (Still, the IDF has called up reserves and has begun moving its forces close to the Gaza border in case the talks fail to yield any results.)

With regards to Rafah border crossing, al-Ahmad said it was not included in the indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel “because it is an Egyptian-Palestinian affair,” adding that there is an understanding between Hamas and Egypt about Rafah. Israel is interested in having the Palestinian Authority in charge of the Gaza side of all crossings.

For right now, Israel continues to reject a seaport and airport in Gaza and demands demilitarization of the Gaza Strip and the disarming of Hamas, a demand Hamas rejects.

When the rockets flew about 10 minutes before the 72-hour truce ended, Hamas disavowed any knowledge of the attack. The Home Front Command was investigating whether the rockets came from the Gaza Strip or were a false alarm, and an Israeli official said that soon after the announcement of the truce extension, PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon ordered the army to respond to the rocket fire. Less than an hour later, the IDF announced that it “is now targeting terror sites across the Gaza Strip.”

Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman of health ministry in Gaza, told reporters that no injuries were reported in the latest airstrikes.

Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke on the phone, said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s Foreign Policy advisor. The president urged Netanyahu to extend the ceasefire with Hamas. Right now, there is enormous international pressure on Israel and Hamas to agree to a truce—whether as another extension of the temporary ceasefire or the signing of an agreement.

One Palestinian official who spoke to AP said the blockade would be lifted slowly over time as well as reducing the 500 meter buffer zone Israel has set up along the border with Gaza.

According to Israel’s Channel 10, while negotiators were still meeting in Cairo, a senior Hamas leader announced that the current round of talks would be Israel’s last chance to negotiate with the terror group. Ismail Radwan warned on Wednesday that “these three days are the last opportunity as far as we are concerned. If there won’t be advancement towards the demands of the Palestinian people, I anticipate the delegation will leave Cairo.”

Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, Hamas and other radical militant terror groups in Gaza have broken six ceasefire agreements with Israel. Hamas has boasted that they are holding Israel “at gunpoint” throughout the negotiations. The terror group has said Israel better give in to their demands or they would “shoot you in the chest.”

i24news reported that Moussa Abu Marzouk, head of the Hamas delegation in Cairo, wrote on his Facebook page: “The talks are difficult but serious. The delegation needs to achieve the hopes of the people.”

As talks continued, Israel offered a number of goodwill gestures, like increasing the number of trucks delivering goods from Israel into Gaza each day, and approving the transfer of funds to by the Palestinian Authority to Hamas government officials.

Hamas has clarified that should a long-term ceasefire be accepted by both sides, the group would only use it to gain time and plan its next war against Israel.

Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned that Hamas would most likely resume fighting should a deal not be reached. “I don’t know if we should extend negotiations. It could be that fire erupts again,” he said. “We must be on alert and ready all the time.”

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz speaking to Army Radio, said, “Either there will be a reasonable resolution of the situation in Gaza, or, if the fire resumes, we will have to consider…an expansion on the ground, overthrowing the Hamas authorities and the demilitarization of Gaza by ourselves.”

(from combined services)

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