Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire but little else after a mediation effort fell short of resolving the broader issues that led the two sides to their worst flare-up in almost four years.
The deal, which went into effect Wednesday evening, obliges both sides to halt all acts of violence outright, following an eight-day war that killed at least 150 Palestinians and five Israelis, including many civilians.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr announced the truce at a short press conference in Cairo. Clinton had arrived in the region on Tuesday to press the two sides to end their fighting.
Both Israel and Hamas continued firing at each other until moments before the ceasefire went into effect—including a massive bombardment from Gaza into southern Israel. Earlier in the day, a bomb exploded on an Israeli bus in Tel Aviv, wounding more than 20 people.
Speaking on Israeli media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had achieved all of its goals in the offensive, including restoring its deterrence against Hamas.
“I said we would exact a heavy price from the terrorist organizations...We hit the terrorist organizations’ senior commanders. We destroyed thousands of rockets,” Netanyahu said.
He noted that Israel received unmitigated support from the United States and much of the international community during the campaign.
Hamas also claimed victory. Senior members of the group said rocket attacks on Israel’s biggest cities proved Hamas could inflict pain on the Jewish state.
The agreement was a relief for millions of civilians who suffered through bombardments on both side of the border over the past eight days.
Roughly 10 minutes after the ceasefire went into effect, Gaza City exploded in celebration. Mosques trumpeted a Hamas victory and calls of “God is great” boomed across the strip. People took to the darkened streets for the first time in weeks, honking horns and hooting. Celebratory gunfire and fireworks rippled across the city as people rejoiced.
Whether it would hold was an open question.
It left at least some ambiguity regarding the siege Israel has clamped on Gaza since 2007. The agreement refers to Israel “opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods,” but does not get into specifics, according to the text published by news outlets. It also says procedures for easing the blockade would be “dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.”
A Palestinian official familiar with the details of the negotiation said a continued siege would pose a severe challenge to the agreement.
“The Palestinian side had felt during much of the negotiation that it was impossible to accept a ceasefire without a total end of the siege,” the official said.
The agreement also failed to address the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, which Israel says had allowed Hamas to amass a huge arsenal of rockets and helped precipitate the war.
The official told The Daily Beast that Israel had wanted Egypt to assume responsibility for preventing weapons from getting to the Gaza Strip through Sinai. But Egyptian officials said it was unrealistic.
“Egypt would have to mobilize all its army on the border in order to make sure no weapons get through. It could require major changes in Camp David agreement [the 1979 peace accord between Israel and Egypt],” the official said. The Camp David accord limits the number of soldiers and weaponry Egypt can deploy in Sinai.
Clinton pressed the two sides all day Wednesday to agree to something less than the full package of understandings they had sought and allow Egypt to continue mediating on the outstanding issues, according to the official.
Netanyahu said in his news conference that he and President Obama agreed to work together to prevent weapons from reaching Gaza. He said the armaments come mainly from Iran.
The document that ends the fighting is not an agreement between Israel and Hamas—neither side signed it. It is an official Egyptian document laying out the understandings Cairo reached separately with each side. It includes an Israeli commitment to halt targeted killings against Palestinians. Israel launched its campaign against Hamas last week with a pinpoint airstrike on Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari as he was driving through Gaza.
It also obliges Palestinians to refrain from attacking Israeli military patrols along the Gaza border.
With reporting from Sarah A. Topol