Hamas Agrees to ‘Gradual’ Ceasefire

Gaza leadership said to seek consensus on deal to to halt border violence and arson attacks in exchange for eased border restrictions
The Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip is seen from the Gaza side of the border on June 7, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

A source in Hamas has reportedly confirmed that the group’s leadership has agreed to a “gradual” ceasefire with Israel that would begin with a halt to arson attacks and other violence along the Gaza border in exchange for eased border restrictions.

The Hamas source, quoted Monday by the London-based, Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, said the first stage of implementing the long-term ceasefire deal brokered by Egypt would see Israel fully reopen the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and increase the fishing zone off the Gaza coast. In return, Hamas official said the Strip’s rulers would commit to halting all attacks against Israel.

In an effort to reach a consensus on the agreement, Hamas officials updated representatives of other factions in the Strip as to the details of the deal, said the source, whose account appeared to confirm parts of a report Friday night from Israel’s Hadashot TV news.

The second phase of the deal would include Hamas-Israel talks for a prisoner exchange agreement, and the implementation of long-proposed humanitarian projects in Gaza, the report said.

The report came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the security cabinet to discuss the proposal. The several-hour meeting reportedly ended without any clear conclusions and the ministers did not vote on the framework.

The deputy head of Hamas’s politburo, Saleh al-Arouri, arrived in the Gaza Strip late Thursday with other Hamas leaders for talks with the terror group’s Gazan leadership that focused on the truce as well as renewed reconciliation efforts with the Palestinian Authority, Hamas-linked media reported.

 

According to Friday’s Hadashot report, the second phase of the deal would see an agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority under which the PA would take control of the Gaza Strip under the auspices of Egypt. It was not clear how that could be reconciled with Hamas’s refusal to relinquish its weaponry — a stance that has scuppered previous Fatah-Hamas reconciliation efforts.

In return, the PA would resume paying its employees in Gaza whose salaries it has withheld, the Hadashot report said. The second phase also reportedly outlines a road map for elections to be held in Gaza within six months.

A third phase would implement long-proposed humanitarian projects like the establishment of a port in the Sinai in Egypt that would serve Gaza, the report said.

The last phase, Hadashot reported, would be a five- to 10-year ceasefire agreement with Israel that would include negotiations for the return of the Israeli citizens and remains of IDF soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza.

Those specifics were not confirmed by the Hamas source cited in Monday’s Asharq al-Awsat report.

Israeli officials have previously said that Israel would not agree to a permanent deal with Hamas that did not include immediate talks for returning the Israeli citizens and remains of IDF soldiers held in Gaza. But on Sunday, Netanyahu said that a potential truce in Gaza was unlikely to include such a provision.

Hamas has demanded that Israel free terrorists held in its prisons in exchange for the return of the captive Israelis and the soldiers’ remains — a demand Jerusalem says it will not agree to.

Families of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two IDF soldiers killed in action in 2014 whose remains are believed to be in Hamas’s hands, have accused the Netanyahu government of failing to include the return of their sons’ bodies as a condition of the deal.

The families of Goldin, Shaul and civilians Avera Mengistu and Jumaa Ibrahim Abu Ghanima — who are believed to be held by Hamas after entering Gaza of their own volition — staged a protest outside the Prime Minister’s Office while Sunday’s cabinet meeting was taking place.

While Hamas leaders have been meeting in Gaza over the weekend, no details of their talks emerged until Monday’s report. Meanwhile, as both sides were mulling the agreement, Gazans continued to launch flaming kites and balloons across the border into Israel.

According to Fire and Rescue Services, close to 50 fires were sparked in southern Israel over the weekend by airborne incendiary devices launched over the border. 

On Sunday, the IDF said it fired on Gazan operatives launching the balloons into Israel, as well as at a vehicle used by a second cell. The Hamas-run Health Ministry said four people were injured in an Israeli strike.

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