Israel and Hamas agree to temporarily end hostilities In Gaza
On Monday evening, Hamas-a Palestinian militant group, and Israel agreed upon a ceasefire after a month of fighting at the Gaza-Israel border.
Although Israel maintains no military presence in Gaza, it has tightly regulated the region’s land and sea borders since 2007, allowing only food, fuel, fishing vessels, and humanitarian aid to pass. Israel is unlikely to heed Hamas’ demand as it fears free movement across the border will allow large quantities of weapons to be transported to terrorist groups in Gaza. Israel, the United States, and the European Union, have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Since August 6, Hamas militants have been launching dozens of incendiary-borne balloons across the border, resulting in damage to acres of Israeli land. Monday saw fifteen fires on the Israeli side of the border as a consequence of the balloons. Rocket attacks by militants in Gaza, specifically targeting Israeli border communities have also been reported.
In response, The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have been conducting near-nightly air strikes against militant infrastructure in Gaza. On August 16, Israel halted the transfer of all goods, save for food and humanitarian aid, into the enclave and barred Palestinians from fishing off the Gaza coast. Israel also blocked fuel supply to Gaza’s only power plant, forcing it into darkness.
As per the ceasefire, Hamas has agreed to stop balloon and rocket attacks against Israel. In exchange, Israel has fully reopened fishing zones off the Gaza coast, restarted the flow of gas to Gaza’s power plants, and allowed civilian goods to enter the sealed Palestinian enclave through the Kerem Shalom border crossing.
The ceasefire comes as the coronavirus rapidly spreads in Gaza, threatening another humanitarian crisis in a region that already lacks regular power and water. As of Monday, they had about 250 active cases. Cramped living conditions and squalid medical infrastructure make Gaza highly susceptible to further spread. The fear of a massive outbreak was one reason to justify Hamas’ decision to accept the ceasefire.
On Monday, the Qatari envoy to Gaza- Mohammed al-Emadi, said that the ceasefire will allow Qatar to announce new humanitarian projects in Gaza to “alleviate the effects of the blockade” and arrest the spread of the coronavirus. Hamas has also been demanding a new industrial zone to be set up in Gaza; it is unclear if Qatar has agreed to do so in exchange for the ceasefire.
The Envoy also promised Gaza funds to help it weather the double-whammy of a raging outbreak and a devastated economy. Qatari cash infusion of USD 17 million into Gaza was a major factor in getting Hamas to agree to the ceasefire.
In addition, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East- Nickolay Mladenov, said that the UN will now assist the Gaza administration in fighting the coronavirus outbreak.
However, there are certain reasons to remain wary about expecting lasting peace on the border.
Lately, low-intensity bouts of hostilities between the two arch-enemies have grown in frequency. Over the last two years, the Israel-Gaza border saw eleven bouts of fighting, with truce in most cases bought by Qatari money.
The main demand of Hamas has always been a complete lifting of the Israel-imposed blockade on the Gaza strip, which is yet to be met. In all probability, this ceasefire is temporary. Even in the past, Hamas has strategically agreed to ceasefires to regroup and augment its arsenals. Among all Palestinian factions, those in Gaza have stood out for their intransigence in negotiations. Hamas must also work on weeding out extremist elements from its ranks. Till an acceptable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is attained, long-lasting peace and prosperity in Gaza will remain elusive.
Reporter- Shreyas Datar