U.N. officials visit Gaza in pursuit of long-term truce

Hamas, Israel differ on whether ‘calm-for-calm’ deal reached in South

An explosion is seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City August 8, 2018.  (photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)
An explosion is seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City August 8, 2018.
(photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)
Four senior UN officials briefly visited the Gaza Strip Saturday as part of continued efforts to reach a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas.
It was not immediately clear whether the officials met with representatives of Hamas or other Palestinian factions during their three-hour visit.
Hamas’s rocket barrage against southern Israel that sent civilians scurrying for shelter on Wednesday and Thursday died out over the weekend.
On Thursday night, the security cabinet met for four hours and instructed the IDF to continue pursuing terrorist targets.
Hamas said Friday that the recent round of violence in the Gaza Strip “proved that Israel is a fragile entity.”
Hamas and other Palestinian factions claimed that another understanding to restore calm to Gaza and the southern border had been reached with Israel late Thursday.
Israel has denied the Palestinians’ claim about a new understanding to restore calm and said that Hamas and those factions had unilaterally halted their rocket and projectile attacks on Israeli communities.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said on Twitter on Friday, “The successive rounds [of violence] also proved that the occupation can be defeated.”
Sources in the Gaza Strip said on Saturday that Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar played a significant role in temporarily ending last week’s flare-up of violence between Hamas and Israel.
The sources said that the three parties exerted pressure on Hamas and other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip to immediately halt their terrorist attacks on Israel so as to avoid an all-out war.
The purported understanding calls for “calm for calm” between Israel and the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, the sources added.
Hamas officials said that calm would be met with calm and any Israeli attack would draw an immediate response from Gaza.
“This is not an agreement on a long-term truce with Israel,” said a senior Hamas official. “Israel needs to understand that we maintain the right to respond to any aggression on the Gaza Strip and our people. We have decided to change the old rules of engagement and from now we will respond to each attack by Israel.”
The reunification of Fatah and Hamas is one of the cornerstones of a cease-fire agreement. Egyptians are, therefore, pursuing their effort to end the rivalry between Hamas and the ruling Fatah faction headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinian sources said on Saturday that Hamas and Fatah representatives have been invited to visit Cairo later this week for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials on ways of ending the power struggle between the two rival parties.
However, the sources ruled out the possibility that Hamas and Fatah would meet with each other during their stay in the Egyptian capital. The gap between the positions of the two parties remains as wide as ever, the sources said.
In recent weeks, the Egyptians held separate discussions with Hamas and Fatah leaders in Cairo as part of an ongoing effort to pressure the two sides to agree to the implementation of a “national reconciliation” agreement they signed in Cairo in October 2017.
The European Union on Friday said it supported Egyptian and UN efforts “to reduce tensions and to alleviate the situation in Gaza, including by enhancing the international response to the current crisis and easing movement and access.”
“We will continue to work together with our partners to address the humanitarian situation and to support intra-Palestinian reconciliation to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under one single and legitimate Palestinian Authority,” an EU statement said.
“The escalation of violence in recent days has brought Gaza and Israel dangerously close to yet more conflict. The first priority now is for de-escalation and for civilians’ lives not to be put at further risk,” the statement said.
Violence continued over the weekend, with riots along the southern Gaza border in which two Palestinians were killed. Incendiary kites were later launched into Israel, and the Israeli Air Force responded by striking Hamas targets in Gaza.
US special envoy Jason Greenblatt published an opinion piece on the CNN website in which he called on Palestinians in Gaza to work together with Israel to make peace.
“Hamas has chosen to weaponize fire in its persistent but futile effort to destroy Israel, driving hopes for peace further away. But this is not the only path forward for the Palestinians in Gaza, nor must it be their future,” Greenblatt wrote.