UPDATE – 6:30 PM EST Israel refused to accept the terms proposed by Hamas and Egypt. Israel is now accusing Egypt of wanting Hamas gains. The bombing of Gaza is intensifying again with huge explosions being reported every few minutes. Journalists are being targeted. Women and children are dying. An IDF soldier was hit by a projectile earlier today. Hamas is urging continued attacks on Israel. There is no ceasefire and will be no ceasefire for at least a few more days.
UPDATE – 12:45 PM EST Haaretz reports “Palestinian and Egyptian officials are now saying that there is still no agreement on a cease-fire,” even though Hamas and Egypt official previously provided details on when a ceasefire would be announced before midnight GMT.
Hamas, Islamic jihad and an Egyptian government representative have announced the terms for a ceasefire that includes stopping assassinations, stopping rocket fire from Gaza, easing border crossings and having Egypt act as a guarantor of the ceasefire, according to Al Jazeera English. There are reports from Egyptian sources that a ceasefire is to be signed in Cairo on Wednesday with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon present. The cease-fire is to go into effect at 22:00 GMT. However, the Israel Air Force has dropped leaflets in the past hours on areas of Gaza urging residents to evacuate leaving residents to wonder if a ground invasion is imminent.
The leaflets are signed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and have been verified by the IDF as authentic.
The Jerusalem Fund has posted a translation:
To the residents of Sheikh Ajleen, Tal Al-hawa, Al-Rimal janoob, Al Zaytoon neighborhood, Shija’eya, Al Turkman, and New Shija’eya,
The IDF is not targeting any of you and does not want to harm you or your family. For your safety, we demand you to evacuate your homes immediately and move toward the center of the city via one of the following paths: Al Qahira, Jami’at Al Dool Al Rabya, Al-Aqsa, Alqadsyah, Om El Laymon, Salah Eldeen, Almansoorah, Khalas and Baghdad. The designated area in the city of Gaza is limited to west of Salah-a-deen Road, north of Omar Al Mokhtar Road, east of AlNassir Road and south of al-Quds road. This is a temporary confrontation and in the end every person will return to his home . Obeying these IDF instructions will keep civilian residents like you from harm’s way.
The leadership of the Israeli Defense Force
The Jerusalem Fund also had a second leaflet brought to their attention, which included a map. The Fund described the size of the area forces are urging Palestinians to leave:
…It essentially represents the most densely populated area of the Gaza Strip in and around Gaza city. This is one of the most densely populated places on earth. According to UN OCHA, the population density in this area is close to 7,000 persons/SqKm. Hundreds of thousands of people are being told to immediately leave their houses. The red areas represent the neighborhoods, which must evacuate immediately into the area in the blue square. The lighter red is the area mentions in the first leaflet above, while the darker red represents the areas in the second leaflet…
The key question, of course, is why densely populated areas of people who really have nowhere to flee being encouraged to seek refuge somewhere if there is some kind of ceasefire that is to be announced.
Al Jazeera English‘s live blog reported between 6:30 and 7 pm Jerusalem time that Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev had told CNN there was no final ceasefire deal with “Gaza fighters.” The ball was “still in play.” He added, “Until you’re there, you’re not there.”
At about 5:30 pm in Jerusalem, an update went up on Al Jazeera English’s live blog: “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says Israel must exercise maximum restraint and strongly cautions against ground invasion of Gaza.” Ki-Moon had just met with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Just before 4 pm, Haaretz reported Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Ki-Moon, “If Israel elects to embark on a ground offensive in Gaza, “it wouldn’t be a limited operation, like a Pillar of Defense II, but more like an Operation Defensive Shield II,” referring to Israel’s comprehensive actions in the West Bank during the Second Intifada. “Comments and public declarations, urging Israel to refrain from a ground offensive, bolster Hamas and lengthen the current conflict.”
The Ma’an News Agency reported on its live blog at around 1 pm Jerusalem time that an Egyptian intelligence source had told them, “There is still no breakthrough,” on a ceasefire and, “Egypt is working to find middle ground.” Around this time, Ki-moon’s stance that there should be an immediate ceasefire and an Israeli ground operation would be a “dangerous escalation” was also stated. (Note: For the past days, Ma’an reporters have been covering the bombardment of Gaza by Israel while taking fire in buildings Israel knows are media complexes.)
In the morning, around 7 am Jerusalem time, Haaretz reported Israeli ministers had agreed to “hold off” on a ground invasion. Nearly two hours later, Haaretz had this update on their live blog:
8:50 am Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal and Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Abdullah Shalah due to meet Tuesday morning with Egyptian intelligence chief Raafat Shehata in an effort to lay out the final details of a cease-fire agreement. Should the two okay the wording of the deal, which was transferred to Egypt from Israel, a cease-fire would be declared. According to Egyptian sources, the agreement would be carried out in two stages: first, a general cease-fire would be implemented, and second, a discussion would be held on opening crossings to Gaza and lifting the blockade.
This is in line with what Israel had been requesting—seventy-two hours of no rocket attacks from Hamas before agreeing to any kind of long-term truce or agreement.
Notably, it is Hamas and Egypt that have announced this ceasefire agreement. It is possible Israel will not accept it and there will be no deal. An Egyptian official indicated at around 7 pm Jerusalem time they were “waiting for the Israeli response.” Why is Hamas and Egypt announcing a ceasefire when Israel has not agreed to it yet?
Egyptian mediators had said they wanted Israel to offer more concessions to Hamas. Could this be the deal Egypt thinks would be fair? Regardless, if it is hard to fathom Israel committing to ending the blockade, it is even harder to fathom Israel agreeing to end targeted assassinations.
People of Gaza and those concerned about Israel’s ongoing disproportionate attacks are understandably anxious and afraid. Both the Israeli Defense Forces and the al-Qassam Brigades (the military wing of Hamas) are still firing at targets. Projectiles are being intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, which US military aid has funded. Israeli forces are still bombing alleged Hamas “terror sites” and killing children and wounding innocent civilians, even if they are killing alleged militants as well. If a general ceasefire is going to go into effect tonight, residents of Gaza would have reason to be skeptical.
NBC News reported yesterday Israel had killed 40 “alleged militants” in its six-day bombing of Gaza. There have been over 100 killed so that means Israel’s “surgical” or “precision strikes” have at least 60 percent of the time killed innocent civilians. And, if Israel uses the same criteria as the US does for drone strikes to designate military-age males as “militants,” the number of actual Hamas-affiliated militants killed could be even lower.
How many more kills will Israel try to get before the ceasefire announcement? How many more rockets will Hamas fire? How will this put any agreement at risk? What if the time for an announcement comes and Israel or Hamas wants to retaliate against an attack that just wounded or killed someone minutes ago? And what is the likelihood that any general ceasefire holds in the days ahead as a long-term truce is negotiated if forces on either side remain in position?
There is no parity between the monopoly of force Israel has on Gaza and the military strength that Hamas has to hit Israel with projectiles. However, both sides do have to disengage and retreat if there is to going to be a peace that can give leaders space to address Israel’s blockade, its occupation of Palestinian land to occur and whether to recognize the democratically elected Hamas in return for an end to projectile attacks.