Cease-fire appears to be holding in Gaza
Border crossings to re-open
Last Updated: 184 days ago
As the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza continued to hold Thursday, Palestinian leaders gave heated speeches to jubilant Gazans on their "victory" over the "enemy."
Mohammed Hindi, the leader of Islamic Jihad, a party to the truce brokered in Egypt, called for more weapons to maintain resistance against Israel, and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called the victory "preparation to liberate Jerusalem and al-Aqsa," the mosque located on the Temple Mount in Israel.
He also claimed that the United States has had to soften its stance in the region in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt.
"The victory of Gaza is a solid truth, not a phenomenon," Haniyeh said in a televised address. "The era of Egypt and the region has changed, and America has now begun learning to listen to a new language."
Israel has "raised the white flag," he added, praising Islamic fighters for defeating "the occupiers." "And I am proud to be the prime minister of this fighting nation," Haniyeh said.
An Israeli government official, in comments to CNN Thursday, underlined that Hamas' stance toward Israel weighs heavily on the ability to negotiate.
"You must remember, Hamas, unfortunately, is the enemy of peace," said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Hamas doesn't want to negotiate. Hamas says that any Palestinian who negotiates with Israel is a traitor to the Palestinian cause."
But Regev stressed that Israel has called on Palestinian leaders to start peace talks. "They haven't agreed. We hope they'll agree soon," he said.
On the cease-fire, Regev said he expects the border to stay peaceful. "If we no longer see the terrorists in Gaza shooting at our people, then we have no need to respond," he said.
Before Haniyeh's speech, supporters of Hamas, which controls Gaza, and supporters of its moderate rival Palestinian party, Fatah, gathered for a peaceful rally and speech near the parliament in Gaza City, which was hit this week in an airstrike. In a rare showing of unity, a chorus of yellow Fatah flags joined green Hamas banners flapping in the breeze alongside Palestinian flags.
"We should be ready through our unity, through our resistance, to keep the perseverance and steadfastness of our people," Hindi said.
Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, affiliated with Fatah, which controls the West Bank and has a reputation for being a more moderate party, blamed Israel for the division of Palestinian loyalties between Fatah and Hamas and encouraged them to reunite to thwart "what the enemy is wanting to do."
He thanked Gazans for their perseverance and unity and passed on greetings from the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas and from Fatah.
"Thank God, through you, we were able to push back this naked aggression that targeted Gaza and its people," Shaath said.
"We should crown this victory by ending the division and expanding the national unity," he said.
Egyptian politician Sayyed al-Badawi, president of the moderate Wafd Party, also congratulated the crowd. "You have broken the will of the Zionist entity. You have made them feel uncertain and insecure," he exclaimed.
Despite the hot rhetoric, weapons remained silent.
If Hamas and Israel can make peace last until 9 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) Thursday, the next stage of the agreement would be to address the question of opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and goods. The two sides are to discuss not restricting residents' free movements and not targeting residents in border areas.
The truce took effect at that same hour Wednesday after eight days of intense fighting.
Some of Israel's soldiers, once readied at Gaza's borders for a potential ground invasion, could be seen packing up and turning back Thursday.
Many residents in Ashkelon, just to the north of Gaza's border and well within rocket range, are skeptical the cease-fire will hold, telling CNN's Fred Pleitgen that they've seen similar agreements come and go in the past. Some said they would have preferred that Israel's military stage a ground invasion to rout out the militants' rocket capabilities.
In the eight-day battle Palestinians counted 163 dead and 1,225 injured in the wake of 1,500 confirmed Israeli strikes, according to Gaza's health ministry. Five total died in Israel, around 200 were injured.
Netanyahu at a news conference in Jerusalem, thanked police for handling Israeli civilians. "The enemy wasn't prepared for our citizens to be so strong and restrained." he said.
The cease-fire deal calls for talks on easing economic restrictions on Gaza to begin Thursday, Regev said.
"If the border is quiet, that enables us to be more forthcoming," he said.
Since hostilities ceased, three rockets had flown into Israel from Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said Thursday.
Earlier mentions by officials of five to 12 projectiles were incorrect, according to the Israeli military. Two of the three landed in open areas, and Israel's Iron Dome automated defense system intercepted one over Ashdod.
Intense shuttle diplomacy became necessary to bring about the cease-fire and sent U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon moving between meetings with Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders.
During his recent trip to Asia, U.S. President Barack Obama talked with Netanyahu almost every day, a senior administration official told CNN. And he had key discussions with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, having aides wake him if Morsy called and phoning with him while returning to the United States on board Air Force One.
The official said Morsy was "very constructive," wanted to get a cease-fire done, and was being "very pragmatic" about it. He and Obama developed a "relationship of trust and were able to work through some of these issues."
The cease-fire agreement addresses important demands by both sides.
It calls for Israel to halt all acts of aggression on Gaza, including incursions and the targeting of people, according to Egypt's state news agency. It also calls for the Palestinian factions to cease all hostilities from Gaza against Israel, including the firing of rockets and attacks on the border. Gazans could see an easing of border restrictions and will get a chance to discuss the lightening of embargoes.
Regev said the agreement calls for "complete and total cessation of all hostile activity initiated in the Gaza Strip." "For us, that's victory. That's what we wanted," he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday of possible additional military action if the cease-fire fails to lead to long-term security.
"But at this time, the right thing for the state of Israel is to exhaust this opportunity to obtain a long-term cease fire," he said.
Netanyahu thanked U.S. President Barack Obama for his "unreserved support" of Israel's actions.
The fighting was ignited by the November 14 assassination by Israeli forces of Ahmed al-Jaabari, the head of Hamas' military wing.
As he was preparing to return to New York from Tel Aviv, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said late Wednesday that his biggest concern is the safety of civilians on both sides.
About 10,000 Palestinians have lost their homes -- there is a critical need for humanitarian aid in the territory, he said.
Israeli forces' spokeswoman Avital Leibovich dismissed such concerns.
"There is no crisis in Gaza," she said, adding that she had seen pictures Wednesday morning of markets filled with fresh produce.
"I understand that some things are not convenient," she said.
The World Food Programme and the World Health Organization warned in a U.N. statement Wednesday that due to the conflict, food and medical deliveries had been held up, creating shortages, particularly of medication.
Israel launched its offensive with a stated goal of ending the rocket attacks on southern Israel from inside Gaza by degrading the ability of Palestinians to launch such attacks.
Israel will hold Hamas responsible for any future attacks from Gaza, whether conducted by that organization or any others, Regev said. He said the agreement reflects that understanding.
Hamas' military wing, the al Qassam brigade, said it fired 1,573 rockets toward Israel during the hostilities, including three shot toward Jerusalem.
How Middle East has changed since last Gaza conflict
In a news release Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces said that during Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel's military targeted more than 1,500 "terror sites."
Hundreds of other buildings were hit in Gaza, Ban said, slamming the "disproportionate" use of force.
Clinton said the United States will continue to work with regional partners to implement and expand the agreement.
Diplomats said they were hoping to avoid a repeat of 2008 and 2009, when at least 1,400 people died as Israeli troops invaded Gaza after similar rocket attacks.
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