Hamas rockets return as clock ticks down on Gaza cease-fire

The Egyptian flag. Israeli officials report that ongoing cease-fire talks with Hamas in Cairo, Egypt have hit a stalemate, Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

(JNS.org) Rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, just two hours before the expiration of the 72-hour cease-fire between Israel and Hamas at midnight. One rocket fell at an open area and another was intercepted.

According to Israeli officials, the ongoing cease-fire talks in Cairo have hit a stalemate, and Israel's political echelon is prepared for the possibility that fighting in Gaza will resume.

A cabinet meeting that had been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon was canceled. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with heads of coalition parties on Tuesday to update them on developments in Cairo, or lack thereof.

Israeli officials said Israel would not make concessions to Hamas in the Cairo talks, but would distinguish between security-related issues and other matters. Israel is apparently not opposed to an Egyptian proposal for Hamas to receive third-party funding to pay salaries to civil servants in Gaza. Israel is also not opposed to allowing commercial goods to pass through the Kerem Shalom crossing and increasing aid to the people of Gaza, as long as Israel retains supervision of the crossing.

Israel will not intervene on the issue of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, Israeli officials said.

But Israel opposes the establishment of a seaport and an airport in Gaza. It also will not release Palestinian prisoners, except perhaps for several-dozen fighters captured in recent weeks during Operation Protective Edge.

As for the Palestinians' intentions, there were conflicting reports, perhaps stemming from internal disputes within the Palestinian negotiating delegation in Cairo. While representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza are interested in a long-term cease-fire agreement, and are willing to extend the current 72-hour cease-fire by a day or two to reach such an agreement, representatives of Palestinian groups abroad—particularly from Hamas—are insisting that the current cease-fire not be extended and that rocket fire at Israel be resumed. 

According to a report by the Lebanese Al Mayadeen news outlet, a key issue that remains to be solved is Israel's demand for the remains of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin to be returned. Hamas official Muhammad Nazal said Hamas would not tie that issue to the cease-fire talks.

"Israel has gotten used to receiving its demands without giving anything in return," Nazal said. "We won't agree to discuss the return of bodies in the cease-fire talks. On this issue, there will be separate negotiations."

Palestinian sources on Tuesday also accused Egypt of thwarting progress in the cease-fire talks, as a way of putting pressure on Hamas to withdraw some of its demands regarding the Rafah crossing. 

According to Arab media reports, Israel has agreed to gradually expand the Gaza fishing zone. It will also reportedly allow construction materials into Gaza, under international supervision. Additionally, the number of trucks carrying goods into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom border crossing will reportedly be doubled and 5,000 Palestinians per month will be allowed to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, via the Erez crossing.

Posted on August 13, 2014 .