Middle East News

Gaza Conflict: 72-Hour Ceasefire Begins

A 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza conflict took effect Friday morning. It came as the result of complex and tireless negotiations led by the United States and the United Nations, The New York Times reported.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the temporary halt in fighting in a joint statement this morning. The ceasefire began at 8:00 am Friday morning in Gaza.

“We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian cease-fire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the cease-fire,” Mr. Kerry and Mr. Ban said in the statement.

“There are no guarantees. This is a difficult, complicated issue, years and years in the building, and I think everybody knows it has not been easy to get to this point,” Mr. Kerry said.

Unlike the previous brief ceasefire, this time the forces on the ground will remain in place, which will allow Israeli troops to continue sealing off the tunnels in Gaza that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said are the prime target of the operation.

During this period, the Palestinians would receive food and medicine and tend to their wounded. Last week, the United States had announced a $47 million humanitarian aid package for Gaza, reported The New York Times.

The agreement also calls for Israeli and Palestinian delegations to travel to Cairo immediately, at the invitation of Egypt, in an effort to negotiate a more durable end to the fighting.

Apparently, all the Palestinian factions are united behind the agreement, but they remain wary of their Israeli foes.

“Acknowledging a call by the United Nations and in consideration of the situation of our people, resistance factions agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian and mutual calm… as long as the other side (Israel) abides by it,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

The Palestinian delegation that travels to Egypt will be comprised of Hamas, Western-backed Fatah, the Islamic Jihad militant group and a number of smaller factions, Palestinian officials said.

Nevertheless, representatives from Israel and the United States will not sit across the table from Hamas because they consider Hamas a terrorist group.

Although this breakthrough should be considered a victory for the tireless efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in the end it took massive and complex diplomatic maneuvering on the part of several nations to achieve the ceasefire.

“The Egyptians played an important role, the Qataris played an essential role in helping bring the parties on board, the Turks were in touch with all sides. This was a collective effort,” U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman, told CNN.

“It’s the package deal that Kerry has been working on for two weeks,” said Martin S. Indyk, who served until recently as special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “Both sides have accepted it and the follow-on negotiations, and both sides seem to prefer that to continuing the conflict. This one should hold.”

Mr. Kerry was more cautious. “This is not a time for congratulations. We hope that this moment of opportunity will be grasped by the parties, but nobody can force them to do that.”

The 3-day ceasefire agreement finally came after mounting international pressure on Israel to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians, including the US government’s denunciation of the shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza that killed 15 people as “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible,” combined with a statement by the UN’s human rights official Navi Pillay saying that world powers should hold Israel accountable for possible war crimes.

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