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Israel-Hamas cease-fire sets stage for talks

Palestinian Hamza Al Masri, 62, sits on the rubble of the family house, destroyed by Israeli strikes in the town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, as he takes a break of trying to salvage any belongings, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

GAZA CITY: Israel said it withdrew the last of its ground forces from Gaza Tuesday as it and Hamas began a temporary cease-fire.

The calm sets the stage for talks in Egypt on a broader deal for a long-term truce and the rebuilding of the battered, blockaded coastal territory.Both sides halted cross-border attacks as the three-day truce took effect at 8 a.m.

The shelling stopped and in Gaza City, where streets had been deserted during the war, traffic picked up and shops started opening.

If the calm holds, it would be the longest lull in almost a month of fighting that has killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.

In the coming days, Egyptian mediators plan to shuttle between Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo to try to work out new arrangements for Gaza.

As details of the Palestinian demands emerged, there were some signs that Hamas is willing to give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a role in Gaza as part of rebuilding efforts.

The Palestinian delegation in Cairo presented a joint list of demands to Egypt, said Hana Amireh, a West Bank-based Palestinian Liberation Organization official who is in touch with the delegation.

The demands include a call for internationally funded reconstruction that would be overseen by an Abbas-led government that was formed in a unity deal with Hamas right before the war.

The delegation is led by one of Abbas’ confidants but includes members of Hamas and other factions.

Efforts are underway to arrange a pledging conference of donor countries in Norway at the beginning of September, Mohammad Mustafa, the West Bank-based deputy prime minister of the technocrat government, said.

However, Hamas official Izzat Rishq suggested that while the group can it will seek a role in the actual reconstruction.

“We know that we have a national unity government that can handle the donors’ conference and the rebuilding, but implementing it on the ground requires national cooperation,” he said.

A three-member Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo Tuesday evening, according to an airport official.

The situation on the ground remains volatile, and any cease-fire violation could quickly derail the Cairo talks.

Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior official in Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, said Israel is willing to discuss an easing of Gaza border restrictions, but needs guarantees that Hamas will not be able to re-arm.

Israel is concerned that Hamas would be able to restock its military arsenal if the borders are opened.

As Tuesday’s truce took effect, residents returned to devastated areas in Gaza to inspect the damage.

Some of the around half-million residents who have been displaced by a month of bloodshed left U.N. shelters to trek back to neighborhoods where whole blocks have been destroyed by Israeli shelling and the smell of decomposing bodies fills the air.

One of the hardest-hit areas of recent days was the southern town of Rafah, which had come under several days of heavy Israeli shelling and airstrikes, starting Friday, after Israel suspected one of its soldiers had been captured by Hamas.

Israel later said the soldier was killed in battle.

“I never saw anything like this in my life,” Tawfiq Barbakh, a 67-year-old father of 12, said as he surveyed his badly damaged home.

“I don’t know how many shells landed every minute but it felt like 20 or 30,” he said.

Israel launched airstrikes on July 8 it said were aimed at stopping the rocket fire before expanding the operation on July 17 by sending in ground forces to destroy a network of tunnels used to stage attacks.

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

The U.N. and Gaza human rights groups monitoring the death toll have said more than 75 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 06, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Israel said it withdrew the last of its ground forces from Gaza Tuesday as it and Hamas began a temporary cease-fire.

Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior official in Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry, said Israel is willing to discuss an easing of Gaza border restrictions, but needs guarantees that Hamas will not be able to re-arm.

Israel is concerned that Hamas would be able to restock its military arsenal if the borders are opened.

One of the hardest-hit areas of recent days was the southern town of Rafah, which had come under several days of heavy Israeli shelling and airstrikes, starting Friday, after Israel suspected one of its soldiers had been captured by Hamas.

Israel later said the soldier was killed in battle.

The war has also left 67 dead on the Israeli side, all but three soldiers.


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