As fighting between Palestinian Hamas rebels and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) continued well into its third week in the Gaza Strip, a 12-hour cease-fire was negotiated amid rising casualties. On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed to broker a deal for a more durable truce. The temporary cease-fire, labeled humanitarian, was subsequently agreed to by both Hamas and Israel and is meant to allow time to facilitate aid to civilians and their evacuation to safer locations. The cease-fire began at 5:00 a.m. local time Saturday (1:00 a.m. Eastern Time).
The action takes place after nearly 1,000 deaths, more than 900 of them Palestinian civilians, and 37 Israelis, have been recorded. Friction between the two states escalated following the murder of three Israeli teen boys, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gilad Shaar, 16, and the apparent retaliatory killing of an Arab youth, Mohammad Abu Khadir, 16. The murder of Khadir reportedly resulted in the flaring of tensions between the two groups.
The IDF initiated a military campaign, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, in response to the escalated fighting between the two states. The Telegraph, published in the U.K., reported that the IDF initial missile strikes into the Gaza Strip were in response to Hamas firing its rockets at Israeli targets. It now reports the new focus of Operation Protective Edge is aimed at identifying and destroying a series of tunnels that are being used by Hamas as a means for fighters to infiltrate Israeli territory and carry out attacks. The tunnels are also reportedly being used as weapons caches.
Notwithstanding the disparity between Hamas and Israeli casualties, the situation is being closely watched by the United Nations, the European Union and the rest of the world. According to an ABC report, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims that Hamas naturally expects Israel to defend itself. Netanyahu continued that by Hamas launching its missiles into Israel from civilian occupied structures, it is doing so with the knowledge that Israel will strike back at those locations. The Israeli Prime Minister added that the difference between the two states lies in Israel’s use of missiles to defend its citizens, and Hamas’ use of its citizens to defend its missiles. Geo-political experts recognize that any sympathetic support Hamas hopes to gain by the rising number of Palestinian deaths is minimized by its willful use of civilians as human shields.
The latest example of the practice occurred this week amid rising casualties and just prior to the Gaza-Strip cease-fire. Israeli missile strikes caused the deaths of Palestinian civilians, many of them children. After the incident was reported by CNN, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, criticized the network for bias against Israel when it reported only the deaths of Palestinian children at the hands of the IDF, but failing to report that Hamas is using United Nations schools as weapons depots. Ambassador Dermer cited a statement made by United Nations Secretary General that the Hamas tactic of storing missiles in schools is turning them into potential military targets.
Earlier, the Washington Post reported that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is steadily losing his ability to influence events in Gaza, and that Hamas leaders have criticized Abbas saying he and the new government in Ramallah have not done anything for them. Adding to Abbas’ ineffectiveness is the growing number of Palestinians who support the Hamas strategy while begrudging Abbas’ preference for a non-violent solution. Those loyal to Abbas say that Israel is intentionally undermining his influence and that if his relevance continues to decline, he may be forced into the Hamas tactic of a militant offensive. Experts fear that such a development will only add to the body count.
With the current cease-fire in place, Hamas remains steadfast in its demand for the existing Egyptian and Israeli blockade to be lifted. The blockade, which was implemented in 2006 in an effort to weaken and defeat Hamas, has caused great hardships on the Palestinian people. This has included the collapse of the local economy and an unemployment rate soaring to more than 45 percent. According to Netanyahu, since July 8, more than 2,000 rocket attacks have been launched by Hamas into Israel. The tenuous Gaza Strip cease-fire comes after more than three weeks of intense fighting amid rising casualties on both sides and the threat of a widening Israeli ground operation made by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.
By Mark Politi