TIME Gaza

Cease-Fire Takes Effect to End Gaza War

Israeli Merkava tanks drive near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip as they return from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian coastal enclave on Aug. 5, 2014, after Israel announced that all of its troops had withdrawn from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Merkava tanks drive near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip as they return from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian coastal enclave on Aug. 5, 2014, after Israel announced that all of its troops had withdrawn from the Gaza Strip. Thomas Coex—AFP/Getty Images

The fighting has claimed nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives — most of them civilians. The war has also left 67 Israelis dead

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas meant to last at least three days and end nearly a month of fighting went into effect in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning.

The truce came ahead of talks in Cairo aimed at brokering a deal that would prevent future cross-border violence.

The temporary truce, agreed to by both sides, started at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and was to last for 72 hours during which Israel and Hamas are to hold indirect talks in the Egyptian capital.

But wide gaps remain and previous international attempts to broker a temporary halt in the fighting have failed. Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to lift their seven-year-old Gaza border blockade. Israel is reluctant to open Gaza’s borders unless Hamas is disarmed.

The situation is still volatile. Just minutes ahead of the start of the truce, shelling still echoed across Gazaand Israel said Hamas fired a heavy barrage of rockets at southern and central Israel.

The war broke out on July 8 when Israel launched airstrikes it said were in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. It expanded the operation on July 17 by sending in ground forces in what it described as a mission to destroy a network of tunnels used to stage attacks.

The fighting has claimed nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives — most of them civilians. The war has also left 67 dead on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers.

Talks in Cairo will be crucial in the coming days. Ending the Gaza conflict without a sustainable truce raises the probability of more cross-border fighting in the future. In the hours leading up to the cease-fire, there were also signs of tensions created by the Gaza fighting spreading to Jerusalem and the West Bank, including two attacks police say were carried out by Palestinian militants.

A unilateral withdrawal would have allowed Israel to end the conflict on its own terms, without engaging in protracted negotiations with Hamas over new border arrangements in Gaza. In such talks, brokered by Egypt, Israel would be asked for concessions it has been unwilling to make, such as opening Gaza’s borders.

Earlier Tuesday, the Israeli military announced that all its ground troops would leave Gaza by the start of the new cease-fire.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the withdrawal was going forward after Israel neutralized cross-border tunnels that were built for Islamic militant attacks inside Israel.

“Overnight, we completed the destruction of 32 tunnels in the Gaza Strip,” Lerner said. “They were part of a strategic Hamas plan to carry out attacks against southern Israel.”

The rocket fire continued throughout the war, and by the time Tuesday’s cease-fire went into effect, some 3,500 rockets had been fired at Israel, Lerner said. He estimated that Israeli forces destroyed another 3,000 rockets on the ground — but that Hamas has an equal number for future use.

Lerner declined to say how many ground forces had been involved in the Israeli operation, though the military acknowledged calling up 86,000 reservists, including rotations, during the course of its Gaza operation.

TIME movies

Arabic-Language Anne Frank Documentary to Include Israel-Gaza Footage

Anne Frank
Anne Frank poses in 1941 Frans Dupon—Anne Frank House/AP

The director hopes the film can foster understanding between Palestinians and Israelis

Seventy years after Anne Frank’s arrest, a new Arabic-language docudrama will use footage of the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict to help tell Frank’s life story and explore the topics of her widely published diary.

Six Palestinian actresses will portray Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 at the age of 15 following two years spent in hiding with her family, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Croatian director Jakov Sedlar and son Dominik will helm the film, titled What Does Anne Frank Mean Today?

“Although the closest I got to Gaza was 3 km, our Palestinian crew were in the city filming between bombardments,” the award-winning director said. “The last few scenes in the film include some real footage from the violence.”

The film mixes scenes from a production of The Diary of Anne Frank with footage of young Palestinians talking candidly about war, first love and topics that Frank wrote about as a teenager.

Sedlar said he hopes the film can foster understanding between Palestinians and Israelis.

“Art cannot change the whole world, but we can help to understand it a bit more,” he told THR. “The fact that we are doing this film in Arabic means we hope that we can do a bit to show how we must not repeat history.”

[THR]

TIME Middle East

If the Gaza Truce Holds, What Then? 5 Possible Outcomes

An Israeli soldier sits in an armored personnel carrier flying the Israeli flag as they return from the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after pulling out of the Palestinian enclave on August 4, 2014 as Israel has begun withdrawing some ground troops.
An Israeli soldier sits in an armored personnel carrier flying the Israeli flag as they return from the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after pulling out of the Palestinian enclave on Aug. 4, 2014, as Israel has begun withdrawing some ground troops. Gil Cohen Magen—AFP/Getty Images

How Operation Protective Edge might end — or carry on interminably

Egypt announced that Palestinian factions declared a 72-hour cease-fire to begin on Tuesday at 8 a.m. Israel sat out of the Cairo talks that produced the humanitarian truce but said it would hold by the cease-fire, a government spokesman told TIME.

Whether or not the parties actually make it through a full three days with no air strikes or rocket attacks remains to be seen. Every other cease-fire effort undertaken since the escalation in early July has failed. But there is a more pressing question: What now? Who and what can put an end to the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza — with 1,865 Palestinians and 67 Israelis killed so far – and also propose a longer-term solution?

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister, on Monday offered a new idea for solving the Gaza problem: let the U.N. take control of the long-troubled territory. “Everyone is asking, What happens after the operation ends? Suppose Israel defeats Hamas. There are a few options. International control of Gaza, by the U.N., should certainly be considered,” Lieberman said at a press conference. This has been tried in other war-torn locales, from Kosovo to East Timor. Why not Gaza?

Well, for one thing, it would be an enormous and expensive undertaking for the international community to take responsibility for Gaza. It would also require Hamas and other militant groups to agree to participate in such a scheme, which is difficult to imagine given that they’ve built their entire identities around what they view as legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation. Still, many of the key players here say that almost a month into the bloodiest phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the second intifadeh, some significant change must emerge at the end of it. TIME looks at five possibilities for how this could end:

  1. Send in the U.N. This would involve what’s been referred to as mini–Marshall Plan, including a massive rebuilding program that would help Gaza pick up the pieces. The task would be huge: electricity and water supplies have been compromised, and an estimated 10,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged. Shaul Mofaz, a former Israeli Defense Minister and IDF chief, has proposed some specifics. These include having the international community oversee the demilitarization of Gaza — a goal recently endorsed by Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, but opposed by Hamas — and approximately $50 billion for rebuilding. E.U. foreign ministers issued a joint statement July 23 backing demilitarization.
  1. Bring the PA back to Gaza: Israel and Hamas will eventually be brought into some kind of proximity talks under an umbrella of Egyptian sponsorship, and the outcome of those discussions would likely involve the return of the Palestinian Authority and its security forces to Gaza, casting them in a key role as guardians of the crossing points into Israel and Egypt — along with international help. The PA, run by the PLO’s secular Fatah faction, was forced out of Gaza in 2007 as part of a violent coup staged by Hamas, whose name is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. Bringing a PA political and security presence back to Gaza would help beef up the legitimacy of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As part of such an arrangement, Israel would likely demand a joint patrolling mechanism on the Gaza perimeter to prevent infiltrations and renewed attempts to rebuild tunnels, more than 30 of which the IDF says it has destroyed. However, the rockets from Gaza did not start when Israel pulled its troops and 8,000 settlers out of Gaza in 2005, but rather, Israel points out, in 2001. Therefore, Israel is likely to refuse any agreement that doesn’t include a mechanism for preventing Hamas from rebuilding its rocket arsenal. The fact that Hamas and Fatah joined in a “reconciliation” government in April makes this form of cooperation more feasible than it was even a year ago.
  1. A 10-year truce: Almost two weeks ago, Hamas offered Israel a 10-year hudna, or Arabic truce. Its terms include — but are not limited to — the following: 1) the release of approximately 50 Palestinian prisoners who, after being released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal in late 2011, were re-arrested by the IDF in June following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, 2) the opening of the border crossings with both Israel and Egypt, 3) international supervision of the Gazan seaport instead of the Israeli naval blockade, as well as extended fishing rights to 10 km off the coast of Gaza, 4) an international airport under U.N. supervision, and 5) international forces on the borders of Gaza. Even if Israeli officials were prepared to accept all of that — which would be unlikely — they have said that the very concept of a hudna, a concept rooted in Islamic history, is problematic because it suggests Hamas only believes in a limited period of calm with the Jewish state but refuses a more permanent solution because it seeks its destruction.
  1. Possible reoccupation of the Gaza Strip: This is an option that is often mentioned by Israel’s far right, including some members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet. Coalition partner Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Economy, said last week that Israel should continue its military operating until Hamas is completely defeated. Lieberman, the Foreign Minister, had suggested in late June that Israel reoccupy Gaza, saying only that would stop the rockets. Ultimately, Netanyahu appears to have rejected these calls, realizing that such a move would likely cause far more bloodshed and further rattle Israel’s already compromised international legitimacy.
  1. Indefinite war: In this scenario, Israel withdraws its troops and tanks from Gaza, but continues to use air and naval strikes as it sees fit. Hamas stays in power and launches rockets at Israel whenever it pleases, and essentially, nothing substantial changes from how things looked a month ago — other than a great number of destroyed buildings and upwards of 2,000 lives lost. If the parties cannot agree on a cease-fire deal that feels satisfactory, Operation Protective Edge could simmer down into a indeterminate cycle of occasional attacks, robbing both Israelis and Palestinians of a return to normal life. Some are hoping that the right cease-fire deal is just around the corner, and some are wishing their leaders will keep holding out for more. But the possibility of a low-level war of attrition, lasting years and costing yet more lives, is not remote.
TIME Israel

Construction Vehicle Attack Shatters Quiet in Jerusalem

Photos show extent of the damage

Israeli authorities say a man rammed a construction excavator into a bus in Jerusalem on Monday before he was shot dead by a police officer; hours later a gunman reportedly opened fire near Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, injuring a soldier before fleeing on a motorcycle.

The attacks came amid terrorism concerns in Israel arising from the nearly month-long war in Gaza. Officials in Gaza say 1,831 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since Israel launched its offensive July 8 with the aim of eliminating the means of firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

The driver of the construction vehicle killed a pedestrian Monday and then overturned the bus in what police described as a “terrorist attack,” Reuters reports. There were no passengers on the bus, but the images above reveal the destructive impact of the rampage.

Assailants in Israel have used construction vehicles in the past. In 2008, a Palestinian plowed a bulldozer into a Jerusalem bus, killing three and injuring dozens of others. Weeks later, a man in a bulldozer plowed into five cars and wounded more than 2o people.

TIME Israel

Hamas Leader: We’re Not Firing From Civilian Neighborhoods

"We kill soldiers, they kill civilians"

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal dismissed claims in a new interview that the militant group in control of the Gaza Strip fires rockets into Israel from civilian neighborhoods and uses Palestinians as human shields.

In a wide-ranging sit-down with CNN that aired on Sunday, Mashaal called the group’s militants “disciplined” and disputed the idea that they intentionally fire on Israel from densely populated civilian neighborhoods in order to provoke Israel into killing civilians. “It is unfortunate that the U.S. administration and President Obama have adopted the Israeli narrative, which is a lie,” he said. “Hamas sacrifices itself for its people, and does not use its people as human shields to protect its soldiers.”

“Look at the results,” he added. “How many Israeli civilians did our rockets kill? Israel knows the number. Meanwhile, how many Palestinian civilians has Israel killed?”

At least 1,700 Palestinians have been killed compared to 63 Israeli soldiers during the nearly month-long war, he said. “We kill soldiers, combatants, while they kill civilians.”

(MORE: Meet Khaled Mashaal: The Man Who Haunts Israel)

Mashaal, who currently lives in exile in Doha, Qatar, claimed that Hamas is only responding to aerial, naval and ground attacks, and will stop doing so when Israel meets its demands. He told CNN that in order for any cease-fire to eventually endure, the blockade around the 1.8 million people in Gaza must be lifted—in the form of open borders, a working airport and an ability to use the sea. In response, he added, rocket fire from Gaza and tunnel-building into Israel could be stopped.

When pressed further on Israeli assertions that Hamas fires rockets from civilian neighborhoods and that critics say the group does it to earn international sympathy for a high number of civilian casualties, Mashaal quickly dismissed those claims, saying, “Hamas does not seek sympathy through its own victims.”

The interview on Sunday came before a seven-hour humanitarian cease-fire was implemented by Israel on Monday, announced after an airstrike near a U.N. school in Rafah left at least 10 people dead.

[CNN]

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Criticizes Israel After Yet Another Strike on U.N. School

Calls for "full and prompt investigation"

The United States issued its strongest condemnations to date of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, denouncing a “horrifying” and “disgraceful” strike on a United Nations school that killed at least 10 people.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., issued a statement late Sunday calling for a “full and prompt investigation” by Israel into a series of deadly strikes that have hit U.N.-run schools.

The Red Crescent charity told The Associated Press the latest deadly attack in the southern town of Rafah came as people were in line to get food from aid workers. The school was sheltering more than 3,000 people displaced from their homes.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Israel

Cease-Fire Slows Gaza War as Israeli Bus Attacked

Authorities said a bulldozer rammed a bus before the vehicle tipped over, killing at least one person, in what Israel called a "terrorist attack"

+ READ ARTICLE

Update: Aug. 4, 11:03 a.m. ET

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — An Israeli-declared temporary cease-fire and troop withdrawals slowed violence in the Gaza war Monday, though an attack on an Israeli bus that killed one person in Jerusalem underscored the tensions still simmering in the region.

Several cease-fires have broken down during the 3½-week war — including Friday when an internationally negotiated truce collapsed amid violence and mutual recrimination between Israel and Hamas.

But with Hamas rocket fire tapering off over the last 24 hours and Israel’s ground operation in Gaza winding down, violence in a war that officials say has killed more than 1,880 Palestinians and over 60 Israelis appeared — for the moment — to be waning.

The lull was broken by the Jerusalem assault, which saw a man ram the front end of a construction excavator into an Israeli bus. Police described the incident as a “terrorist attack,” indicating Palestinian involvement.

The attack occurred on a main thoroughfare near Jerusalem’s light-rail line. The area is located near the unofficial line between Jewish West Jerusalem and east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967 and which is home to most of the city’s Arab population. Israeli media said the attacker came from an Arab area of the city.

Israel’s Channel 10 TV showed cellphone video of what it said was the attack, with the yellow excavator slamming its large shovel into the bus. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a police officer in the area opened fire and killed the attacker. A pedestrian also was killed, said Jerusalem district police chief Yossi Piranti.

In the past, Palestinian attackers have gone on deadly rampages with bulldozers in Jerusalem traffic.

“Because of the quick reaction of the police an even graver incident was avoided,” Piranti said.

Shortly after the excavator attack, Israeli media reported that a gunman on a motorcycle shot and seriously wounded an Israeli soldier. Police searched for the shooter in east Jerusalem.

“We believe there is a great likelihood this was a terrorist attack,” Piranti said.

Before the attacks, a seven-hour Israeli cease-fire in Gaza went into effect. And while Israel continued hitting at selected Palestinian targets, the level of the fighting was much lower than in previous days.

However, the Israeli military said the cease-fire would not apply to areas where troops were still operating and where they would respond to any attack. The southern strip town of Rafah, which saw heavy fighting Sunday, was excluded from the truce, the military said.

Shortly after the cease-fire started at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT), an Israeli strike hit a house at the Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, killing three people and wounding at least 30, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. The Israeli military said it targeted an “operative threat” and rocket fire in the strike “around 10 a.m.”

A separate Israeli strike killed Daniel Mansour, a commander in the Islamic Jihad group — a close ally of Gaza’s militant Palestinian Hamas rulers, the group said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said his group remained skeptical about the announced Israeli truce.

“We do not trust such a calm and call on our people to take caution,” Zuhri said.

Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office said it was “urgently investigating” claims that a British aid worker had been killed in the Gaza town of Rafah. It declined to comment further.

Israel launched the military operation in Gaza on July 8 in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire. It has since carried out more than 4,600 airstrikes across the crowded seaside area. On July 17, it sent in ground forces in what it said was a mission to destroy the tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks inside Israel.

Hamas has fired more than 3,200 rockets into Israel during the war, with some intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and many of the crude missiles landing in open areas away from cities.

Since the war began, Palestinian health officials say at least 1,888 Palestinians have been killed. Most of the Palestinian casualties have been civilians, while all but three of the 64 people killed in Israel have been in the military. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under increasing international pressure to halt the fighting because of the heavy civilian death toll in Gaza.

Overnight, Israeli forces carried out new airstrikes while Israeli tanks and navy gunboats fired dozens of artillery shells, targeting houses, agricultural plots and open areas, Gaza police said. They said Israeli jet fighters destroyed three mosques, nine houses, five seaside chalets and a warehouse for construction material.

The Gaza police said Israeli navy boats also approached the northern coast of the strip and soldiers tried to land in the area. On the ground, there were clashes in the southern town of Rafah and southeast of Gaza City, they said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Sunday, an apparent Israeli strike killed 10 people at a U.N. school that had been converted into a shelter in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.

The United States said it was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” shelling and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Israel to do “more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack on the school a “moral outrage and a criminal act” and demanded a quick investigation. On Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Israel’s right to security does not justify the “killing of children and the massacre of civilians.”

The Israeli military said it had targeted three wanted militants on a motorcycle in the vicinity and was “reviewing the consequences of this strike.” Israel said that it attacked 63 sites on Sunday and that nearly 100 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel.

U.N. shelters in Gaza have been struck by fire seven times in the latest Israeli-Hamas round of fighting. UNRWA, the U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees, says Israel has been the source of fire in all instances. But it also has said it found caches of rockets in vacant UNRWA schools three times.

Israel accuses Hamas of using civilian areas for cover and says the Islamic militant group is responsible for the heavy death toll because it has been using civilians as “human shields.”

___

Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.

TIME Gaza

Israeli Airstrike Kills Militant Leader in Gaza

Israeli strikes hit Gaza City
Smoke rises from Gaza City as Israeli air strikes within the "Operation Protective Edge'' hit different points on Aug. 3, 2014. Mohammad Othman—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Daniel Mansour was the northern commander for the Islamic Jihad group, a key ally of Hamas

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — An Israeli airstrike killed a militant leader in the Gaza Strip on Monday, just hours ahead of an expected seven-hour truce announced by Israel that was meant to open a “humanitarian window” for aid.

However, the Israeli military said the cease-fire, which was to start at 10 a.m. (07:00 GMT), would not apply to areas where troops were still operating and where they would respond to any attacks.

The Islamic Jihad group — a close ally of Gaza’s militant Palestinian Hamas rulers — said its commander in the northern part of the strip, Daniel Mansour, died when the Israeli strike hit his home just before dawn Monday.

Israel has been drawing down its ground operation since the weekend but has kept up heavy aerial, offshore and artillery bombardments of the strip. The Gaza war, now in its fourth week, has left more than 1,800 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis dead.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group was skeptical about the Israeli truce announcement. “We do not trust such a calm and call on our people to take caution,” Zuhri said.

Israel launched its military operation in Gaza on July 8 in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire and has since carried out more than 4,600 airstrikes across the crowded seaside territory. It sent in ground forces on July 17 in what it said was a mission to destroy the tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks inside Israel.

Since the fighting erupted, Hamas has fired more than 3,200 rockets into Israel, many of them intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

Overnight, Israeli forces carried out new airstrikes while Israeli tanks and navy gunboats fired dozens of artillery shells, targeting houses, agricultural plots and open areas, Gaza police said. They said Israeli jet fighters destroyed three mosques, nine houses, five seaside chalets and a warehouse for construction material.

The Gaza police said Israeli navy boats also approached the northern coast of the strip and soldiers tried to land in the area. On the ground, there were clashes in the southern town of Rafah and southeast of Gaza City, they said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

U.N. officials say more than three-quarters of the dead in the war have been civilians, including the 10 people killed Sunday at a U.N. school that has been converted into a shelter in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack a “moral outrage and a criminal act” and demanded a quick investigation, while the U.S. State Department condemned the strike in unusually strong language.

According to witnesses, Israeli strikes hit just outside the main gates of the school on Sunday. The Red Crescent, a charity, said the attack occurred while people were in line to get food from aid workers. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said in addition to the dead, 35 people were wounded.

Robert Turner, director of operations for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said the building had been providing shelter for some 3,000 people. He said the strike killed at least one U.N. staffer.

“The locations of all these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times,” Turner said. “They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea.”

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said Sunday that Israel had detected some 30 tunnels that were dug along the border and had substantially minimized “this huge threat.”

But he warned the operation was not over and that Israel would continue to target Hamas’ rocket-firing capabilities and its ability to infiltrate Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under international pressure to halt the fighting because of the heavy civilian death toll.

U.N. shelters in Gaza have been struck by fire seven times in the latest Israeli-Hamas round of fighting. UNRWA, the U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees, says Israel has been the source of fire in all instances. But it also has said it found caches of rockets in vacant UNRWA schools three times.

Israel accuses Hamas of using civilian areas for cover and says the Islamic militant group is responsible for the heavy death toll because it has been using civilians as “human shields.”

Israeli artillery shells slammed into two high-rise office buildings Sunday in downtown Gaza City, police and witnesses said. Al-Kidra said more than 50 Palestinians were killed, including 10 members of one family in a single strike in the southern Gaza Strip.

Israel said that it attacked 63 sites on Sunday and that nearly 100 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel.

___

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

TIME Middle East

Israel Seeks to Gain Advantage by Reversing Course in Gaza

ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-GAZA-CONFLICT
Israeli soldiers fold their equipment along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after they pulled out from the Gaza Strip on Aug. 3, 2014 Gil Cohen Magen—AFP/Getty Images

Walking away from a cease-fire deprives Hamas of a PR victory, and leaves Israel with options on how to proceed

The war continues and there is no victor, but Israel is gradually pulling most of its troops out of the Gaza Strip in a sign that in the course of a weekend, it decided to take a completely different tack in its war with Hamas.

After four attempts at a humanitarian cease-fire over the past few weeks, including a much vaunted one Friday that was supposed to last for 72 hours but instead collapsed after two, Israel decided that it was no longer pursuing a truce with Hamas. Instead, it opted for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, save a new buffer zone it is carving out along the border, in the belief that there was more to be gained from walking away from what had begun to seem like a merry-go-round of failed cease-fires.

On the one hand, the decision is a stunning reversal from what many had begun to expect from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose more hawkish Cabinet members have been calling for a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. On the other, the decision to pull back ground troops while declaring, as Netanyahu did Saturday, that the operation continues, is a formula for the blood-soaked Israel-Hamas war to plod on while the world watches the death toll in Gaza rise and international diplomats grow increasingly befuddled by the question of what to propose next.

That bloodshed may have been part of Israel’s equation. Amos Yadlin, a retired major general of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and the director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University, told reporters Sunday that he thought reversing course was a wise move on the part of Netanyahu, as Israel faces growing international censure for its actions in Gaza. The Palestinian death toll now tops 1,800, according to its Ministry of Health, and on Sunday, Israel’s shelling of a U.N. school was vociferously condemned by the U.S. after 10 Palestinians were killed. It was the seventh incident of a school used as a shelter coming under attack, according to UNRWA.

The move also serves to deprive Hamas of the victory it has sought since the war began July 8. “We neutralize their main strategic forces, and leave them alone, without any achievement, without any demand, in their devastated place called Gaza,” Yadlin said. The change of tack is a “sophisticated, smart move,” he added, at least for the time being. “I don’t know if it’s sustainable for the long run. But we will have to see how Hamas will react, what kind of fire they will continue to use, and if we can live with it.”

It also gives Israel options on how to proceed. The mind-set goes that previous negotiated cease-fires, like the one that ended Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, served to “hamper” the IDF by limiting how it could respond. By unilaterally pulling troops out of Gaza — while declaring the key goals of the ground operation complete, including having destroyed some 30-odd tunnels — Israel believes it has gained the freedom to act as it sees fit.

“So if we want to proceed, we proceed. If we want to stop, we stop. If we want to initiate something else, we will initiate something else,” says Udi Dekel, a retired brigadier general, also of the INSS. “If Hamas continues to fire, we can fire. If we see any activity in the security perimeter, like digging another tunnel, we can attack them, because there is not any understanding or agreement between us and Hamas. So we keep all the possibilities in our hands.”

Hamas, for its part, says Israel will have no calm unless it negotiates the terms of a cease-fire. Among Hamas’ main goals is the lifting of an embargo on Gaza designed to squelch the economy and prevent Hamas from functioning. Many Palestinians argue this has turned Gaza into an open-air prison, while Israel argues that when it’s been lax in the past, Hamas has used the opportunity to build tunnels and bunkers.

Alongside its unilateral about-face in Gaza, Israel refused over the weekend to attend the cease-fire talks in Cairo as planned, calling the truce efforts futile. Israel says that Hamas broke one cease-fire too many, while Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal told CNN on Saturday that it never agreed to let the IDF keep operating in Gaza during the truce, which it sees Israel having broken.

But there may be more to Israel shunning the talks than simply wanting to refuse to play ball with Hamas any further. Political scientist Yoram Meital notes that as Israel’s goals in the operation moved over the course of the few weeks — from rockets to tunnels to demilitarization of Gaza — the latter became the buzzword. The Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the E.U. and the Obama Administration said demilitarization would indeed be a good idea, but it would need to take place in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement.

“This is of course a very different perspective from Netanyahu’s view,” says Meital, a Ben Gurion University professor who specializes in Israel’s relationship with Egypt and the Palestinians. “While demilitarization is a very legitimate objective, Netanyahu is not ready to pay the price for this commodity. He understands perfectly well that by discussing this as part of the peace process, one of the meanings is that after several years, the Gaza Strip and West Bank would be discussed as one unified Palestinian territorial unit.” That, he notes, is the last thing the Israeli right wing wants.

So now the “new phase” of the conflict has begun. Columns of IDF tanks were seen cutting through the dust of Gaza’s outskirts and pulling out toward Israel Sunday, but the IDF’s air strikes on Gaza continued. The IDF said rocket fire continued over Tel Aviv, and in southern Israel. Israelis meanwhile, turned their attention to the dramatic end of what they had been told on Friday was the Hamas capture of IDF soldier Hadar Goldin. On Saturday night, Goldin was declared dead based on forensic evidence collected at the scene, and on Sunday he was buried before a crowd of thousands. Among them was his cousin — Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon.

TIME Middle East

U.S. Condemns Gaza School Attack as Israel Says ‘Battle Is Ongoing’

Palestinian carries a wounded boy following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike at a United Nations-run school, where displaced Palestinains take refuge, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
A Palestinian carries a wounded boy following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike at a United Nations-run school, where displaced Palestinians are taking refuge, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Aug. 3, 2014. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa—Reuters

Israel says it's scaling back but isn't done with fighting Hamas

Update 2:02 p.m. ET

The State Department joined United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in condemning the killing of 10 Palestinians outside of a UN Relief and Works Agency school in Gaza on Sunday, as the Israeli military issued a warning to residents of the Palestinian territory that “the battle is ongoing.”

“The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons,” said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, in a statement issued Sunday. “The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israeli Defense Forces. We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.” She called for a “full and prompt” investigation of the incident.

In a statement earlier Sunday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon called the attack “a moral outrage and a criminal act.” Ban also called for an investigation into what he called “yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law,” and for an immediate end to fighting. “This madness must stop,” he said.

The school had been sheltering Gaza residents displaced by the nearly four weeks of fighting that have taken place. Approximately six UN facilities have been hit by Israeli fire since the conflict began, the Associated Press reports. The Israel military had no immediate comment on the most recent attack, but said it would look into the reports.

Israel has previously said that when Hamas deliberately uses civilian centers as weapons depots or places from which to fire rockets, it turns those places into targets. “When a schoolhouse, hospital, mosque is turned into a military command center or a weapons depot, or a place where you fire rockets, it becomes by the rules of war a legitimate target,” said Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, on July 22.

As the UN called for an immediate end to the violence, the IDF began withdrawing some troops from the Gaza strip as it entered a “next stage” of combat. A statement from the IDF says it was “redeploying to enable combat against Hamas & continued defense from tunnels.”

“We have indeed scaled down some of the presence and indeed urged Palestinians in certain neighborhoods to come back to their homes,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner also told the AP, though Israeli air strikes continue in the region.

The IDF shared its plans to scale back troop numbers as it dropped notices all over the Gaza Strip warning that “the battle is ongoing” and that “all the leaders of Hamas and other terrorist groups are unsafe,” NBC News reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Saturday evening press conference that Israeli’s Operation Protective Edge would go on in Gaza “no matter how much time it takes and how much strength it requires,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports.

“Every option is on the table to ensure long-term quiet to the residents of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “I won’t say when we’ll finish and where we’ll go. We have no obligation outside of our security concerns.”

Plans for a 72-hour cease-fire brokered by the UN and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry fell apart Friday morning just before the truce was supposed to begin, reportedly after a Palestinian militant made a suicide-bomb attack near the town of Rafah.

More than 1,750 Palestinians, largely civilians, and 70 Israelis, mostly soldiers, have been killed in the conflict so far.

Related: Children Suffer as War Continues in Gaza and Israel

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