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Israel: Ceasefire with Hamas Ends

The temporary cease-fire (tahdiya) agreement between Israel and Hamas has come to an end earlier this month with an escalation of violence in the region and a re-implementation of the Gaza blockade. Following information on Hamas preparations to abduct IDF soldiers through a tunnel, the IDF operated near the border in Gaza. The operation prevented the planned attack and killed seven Hamas operatives. In reaction, Hamas fired a massive barrage of rocket and mortar shell fire onto the Israeli south.

Earlier in June, the temporary cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas (mediated by the Egyptian government) included the following terms: 1) stopping of all Gaza-Israel violence and an ease in the blockade 2) easing of Israeli restrictions on cargo crossings 3) conducting talks about opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt and prisoner exchange to free IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

Israel pledged to refrain from massive offensive operations but reserved the right to carry out attacks on specific targets should the need arise. Hamas, on the other hand, regarded the temporary cease-fire as a tahdiya and not a hudna. Jonathan Dahoah Halevi explains the difference:

The difference between the two Arabic terms is substantial. Hudna means “truce,” which is more concrete than tahdiya – “a period of calm” – which Hamas often uses to describe a simple cease-fire. In traditional Islamic thought, a hudna is negotiated between an Islamic entity and a non-Islamic entity, but it can be reversed the moment the Islamic side has gained sufficient strength to resume fighting. Nevertheless, a hudna implies recognition of the other party's actual existence, without acknowledging its legitimacy.

A tahdiya has less standing than a hudna. Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’ leader, and his deputy in leadership, Musa Abu Marzouq, elaborated in recent months their interpretation of a tahdiya. In an interview with Al-Jazeera (April 26, 2008), Mashaal clarified that for Hamas, a tahdiya is “a tactic in conflict management and a phase in the framework of the resistance [meaning all forms of struggle].” He added that it “is not unusual for the resistance…to escalate sometimes and to retreat a bit sometimes as the tide does….The tahdiya creates a formulation that will force Israel…to remove the siege…and if it happens it will be a remarkable achievement….We are speaking of a tactical tahdiya….As long as there is occupation, there is no other way but resistance.”

The cease-fire has granted Hamas a golden opportunity to expand its military build-up for the next round of terror and violence. Blogger soccer dad expanded on this point:

But all that means is that Israel will tolerate a certain level of violations before it is forced to act. The cycle will repeat unless Israel takes decisive action against Hamas wiping out most of its terrorist capabilities, just as it did to Fatah during Operation Defensive Shield.

The point of the tahadiyeh from Hamas's standpoint is to allow itself to re-arm and prepare for its next campaign against Israel.

It's also reasonable to assume that Hamas has no intention of releasing Gilad Shalit anytime soon. Despite its political and military gains from the tahadiyeh, if Hamas is brazen enough to claim that Israel isn't keeping its side of the bargain while it flagrantly violates the truce (by rearming), it wants a lot more from Israel before it will release Shalit.

The lull agreement reached between Israel and Hamas was subject to an Egyptian pledge to do everything in its power to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. In addition, Israel pledged to refrain from massive offensive operations but is reserving the right to carry out attacks on specific targets should the need arise.

The events which began on November 4th have brought the violence back to the region and effectively ended the cease-fire. Doc's Talk blog describes the events as they unfolded:

Following information about Hamas's preparations to abduct IDF soldiers through a tunnel, the IDF operated near the border. The operation prevented the planned attack and killed seven Hamas terrorist operatives. Hamas reacted with massive rocket and mortar shell fire, unprecedented since the lull arrangement went into effect. After the immediate barrages, sporadic rocket and mortar shell fire continued (carried out by the smaller terrorist organizations). Israel responded by closing the Gaza Strip crossings.

Another event occurred on November 12, when the IDF killed four Hamas terrorist operatives who tried to lay an IED near the border security fence. The Palestinian terrorist organizations, led by Hamas, again fired dozens of rockets and mortar shells at western Negev population centers, including the town of Sderot and city of Ashqelon. The fire, in various quantities, continued uninterrupted for four days.

…Following the lack of goods in the Gaza Strip and in response to appeals from the international community, on November 11 Israel began delivering a limited supply of diesel fuel for the Gaza Strip power plant. However, the deliveries quickly ended on November 12 because Hamas renewed its rocket fire.

…In reality, closing the power plant led to local disturbances in the supply of electricity in the Gaza City area. However, the power outage was not complete because the Gaza Strip power plant supplies only about 30% of its electricity. Hamas, as usual, initiated a propaganda campaign which exaggerated the extent of the suffering caused to local residents, completely ignoring the terrorist attacks and rocket and mortar fire which caused the crossings to be closed. The objective of the campaign has been to exert pressure on Israel through the international community, the Arab countries and Israeli public opinion. That is done to force Israel to open the Gaza Strip crossings, despite the ongoing attacks carried out by the Palestinian terrorist organizations.

While the official Israeli stance has been coming out with claims that Hamas is staging the blackouts (not the first time Israel raises this issue), the situation on the ground in Gaza is dire. Amira Hass presents a more personal description of life in Gaza:

Offices, medical practices, private residences: All are darkened by power outages that may occur at any time of day. Every phone call starts with the question of whether the person on the other end of the line has electricity. Whether they managed to bathe the kids before the hot water ran out. Whether the washing machine was working when the outage began.

Refrigerators are particularly prone to malfunction and breakdown because of the constant outages. Also, the cellular phone system weakens and sometimes crashes. Not everyone can afford buying a generator for their home or office and paying for the gas it runs on. They have to save money.

The shortage in cooking gas and diesel is starting to worry many. One mother in Gaza City had to send her child to Rafah, where the shortage is not yet felt, to buy cooking gas. Meanwhile, it is till relatively warm for November and people are putting off thinking about what will happen if Israel continues to block the transfer of cooking gas or diesel used for heating into the Gaza Strip when the winter arrives.

From browsing Israeli press and blogosphere, it is apparent that not many had truly believed the lull would even last as long as it did. In his post, Crushing the tahadiyeh Zvi Bar'el writes:

A tunnel here, a roadside bomb there, mortar bombs, Qassams, border closures, border openings, an Israeli military force enters, “rapid and effective operations,” four killed, another six killed. The chocks that have until now kept the lull in the Gaza Strip in place, keeping it from rolling downhill, are failing with increasing speed and noise. Every party is careful not to declare that the cease-fire is over, since whoever does so will immediately be denounced as responsible for crushing that fragile construction. But the truth is, it's already gone. Almost five “normal” months since the deal was struck through indirect negotiations mediated by Egypt, and it's already time to prepare for the next stage.

Since the cease-fire went into effect, Israel has had some pretty good reasons to renege on the agreement and to launch an assault on Gaza. Arms and explosives have made their way to the Strip virtually undetected, tunnels continued to be dug and bombs planted throughout the territory against an Israeli ground invasion. Last week's “ticking tunnel,” dug ostensibly to facilitate the abduction of Israeli soldiers, was not a clear and present danger: Its existence was always known and its use could have been prevented on the Israeli side, or at least the soldiers stationed beside it removed from harm's way.
It is impossible to claim that those who decided to blow up the tunnel were simply being thoughtless. The military establishment was aware of the immediate implications of the measure, as well as of the fact that the policy of “controlled entry” into a narrow area of the Strip leads to the same place: an end to the lull. That is policy – not a tactical decision by a commander on the ground.

Most recently, Israel has been criticized by the UN high commissioner for Human Rights. Barak Ravid and Amos Harel elaborate on Israel's reaction to her comments:

Israel reacted angrily to comments made Tuesday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in which she called for an immediate end to its blockade of the Gaza Strip, which she said breached international and humanitarian law.

In a statement from her Geneva-based office, Pillay urged Israel to allow the flow of aid including food, medicines and fuel to resume, and to restore electricity and water services in the Hamas-controlled territory.

Pillay was also quoted as saying that 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children have been forcibly deprived of their most basic human rights for months. She also called for Israel to end airstrikes and incursions in Gaza, and for Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets into Israel.

Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza after the Islamic group Hamas violently seized control of the territory in June 2006. It recently tightened the sanctions because of rocket fire at Israeli towns.

Pillay's demands provoked an angry response from Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, who accused her of being utterly shortsighted and repeating blatant misinformation.

“Overall responsibility for the situation in the Gaza Strip lies with Hamas, which invests all of its resources in arms and terrorism instead of providing for the civilians that it brutally controls,” Aharon Leshno-Yaar said, adding that Palestinian groups had fired more 170 rockets and mortars at Israel during the past 10 days.

Leshno-Yaar also rejected Pillay's claim that Israel has cut off essential supplies to Gaza.

“Electricity and water continue to flow from Israel to Gaza, and 33 trucks laden with supplies arrived in Gaza yesterday, with more waiting to enter as soon as Hamas ends its violent attacks,” he said.

Finally, on a personal note, from browsing blogs and news sites, even for myself it is increasingly difficult to maintain a solid opinion, as the situation on both sides of the border is ever more complex. One thing is very clear – both sides lack solid leadership, which seeds a sense of hopelessness. Even with the upcoming elections in both Palestine and Israel, there seems to be little hope for potential leaders to bring an end to the violence. What are your opinions? How can the elections affect this continuing situation if at all?

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