More than one month has passed since the calm agreement went into effect, with only sporadic violations by the terrorist organizations. Signs of normal life can be seen in towns on both sides of the Israel-Gaza Strip border. Several important issues have not yet been resolved.
(Based on IICC report July 27)
The lull in the fighting in the Gaza Strip became effective on June 19, 2008, at 06:00. The core elements of the lull arrangement are the cessation of terrorism from the Gaza Strip, the cessation of IDF counter-activities in the Gaza Strip, and the opening of the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The ceasefire along the Israeli-Gaza Strip border was also supposed to re-launch the Egyptian-brokered negotiations on the release of Israeli captive soldier Gilad Shalit (as demanded by Israel) and promote dialogue on opening the Rafah Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (as demanded by Hamas).
The lull in the fighting is valid for six months and only in the Gaza Strip (during that time, Egypt will attempt to extend it to Judea and Samaria as well).
During its first month, the lull arrangement resulted in a significant drop in rocket and mortar fire at Israel. A relative calm has settled over Sderot and Israeli population centers near the Gaza Strip, occasionally broken by rockets and mortar bombs fired by terrorist organizations which oppose the lull (mostly local Fatah networks, with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad violating the lull only on one occasion).
Rocket and mortar fire during the lull compared to the months preceding it
The cessation of the intensive fighting which had been going on before the lull has allowed the residents of Sderot and of western Negev population centers, as well as Gaza Strip residents, to return to normal life. However, they are still plagued with uncertainties and concerns about their future. The prevailing sentiment is that the calm is only temporary. Some Negev residents say that they are still haunted by the threat.
Israel adopted a response policy of closing the crossings for short periods of time (from several hours to two days) after each violation of the calm by terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. However, since Israel is interested in maintaining calm in the western Negev, it has so far avoided military retaliation for violations of the lull.
As one example of a violation of the calm agreement, on June 24 (five days after the arrangement became effective), a PIJ squad fired three rockets on Sderot in response to the killing of one of its senior operatives in Nablus. It should be mentioned that the lull does not apply in Judea and Samaria, where terrorist activities by the various organizations continue (and have even increased), as do Israel’s counter-activities. Hamas, which committed itself to the lull arrangement, consistently congratulates the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria.
Publicly, Hamas leaders have stated time and again that the lull is a Palestinian national interest. On several occasions, Hamas members have arrested Fatah operatives who were involved in firing at Israel and confiscated their arms. However, Hamas carefully avoids military confrontations with the other organizations, particularly the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). It does not want to be perceived as collaborating with Israel and compromising the “resistance” (which remains one of the key values in its ideology).
Weapons and ammunition continue to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip on a similar scale to the pre-lull times, despite an improvement in Egyptian activity against the smugglers. Furthermore, Hamas has significantly accelerated its training activity and its military buildup, publicly announcing it on Palestinian and Arab media.
Opening the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which are a vital supply line for the Gaza Strip, was and still is one of the major incentives for which Hamas agreed to the lull arrangement. In Hamas’s view, keeping the crossings open for extended periods of time will ease the social and political pressure exerted on the Gaza Strip since the Hamas takeover, and will even help reinforce its internal and external political status.
Since the calm agreement went into effect, the number of trucks passing through Sufa and Karni crossings has increased and is approximately what it was before April 19, 2008 (when Kerem Shalom crossing was attacked and, as a result, closed, and traffic through the other crossings was reduced). Recently, in addition to food, medicines and fuel, Israel has also been transferring construction materials such as cement and steel.
No progress on two key issues: release of Gilad Shalit – Israeli interest, Hamas is delaying; opening Rafah crossing – Hamas interest, Egyptians are delaying.
Rafah crossing issue
Hamas places much significance on opening the Rafah Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in order to lessen its dependence on Israel. During the talks on the lull arrangement, Hamas demanded that the Rafah Crossing be opened as soon as the arrangement became effective, and publicly portrayed the opening of the crossing as one of the main reasons it agreed to the lull. The ceasefire, according to the lull arrangement, was supposed to initiate a round of talks on regulating the crossing, which have yet to begin.
Egypt, on its part, made it clear that the Rafah Crossing would not be opened unless it was in accordance with the November 2005 crossings arrangement, which stipulates that the Europeans, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel would all be involved in operating the crossing. Hamas, however, refuses to let Israel take part in regulating traffic through the Rafah Crossing.
In Israel’s view, resuming intensive talks (brokered by Egypt) on the release of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit is part of the lull arrangement. Hamas leaders, on the other hand, claim time and again that the issue of Gilad Shalit is completely separate, having to do only with Israel ‘s willingness to comply with Hamas’s demands to release Palestinian prisoners. In the meantime, negotiations have not resumed.