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Gaza ceasefire: 7 things to know about the conflict

Published on Aug 28, 2014 1:05 PM
 
A Palestinian boy looks out of his damaged house after a ceasefire was declared, in the east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Aug 27, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

On August 26, an open-ended ceasefire between Israel and Hamas came into effect after 50 days of fierce fighting in which more than 2,200 people died, most of them Palestinians.

The next day, the United Nations’ World Food Programme said one of its convoys had entered Gaza for the first time since 2007, carrying enough food to feed around 150,000 people for five days.

As displaced Gazans returned to their war-battered homes feeling both relieved and frustrated, here's a recap of what the conflict is about and what lies ahead.


1. History of the Gaza conflict

Israelis and Arabs have been fighting over Gaza on and off, for decades. It is part of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict.

After World War II and the Holocaust in which six million Jewish people were killed, many Jewish people wanted their own country in Palestine, which they considered their ancestral home. Jewish immigrants into British-ruled Palestine had jumped substantially prior to the Second World War, much to the chagrin of the Palestinians and other Arabs.

Shortly after the end of the war, in 1947, Britain announced it was giving up its mandate to rule Palestine and that the United Nations would take over. The UN suggested two states - one Arab and one Jewish with the city of Jerusalem to be governed under an international trustee system. The Jews accepted the plan but the Arabs, including the Palestinians who have lived for generations on the land, rejected it.

On May 15 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the state of Israel. The following day, the armies of four Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq—entered Palestine, launching the 1948 Arab–Israeli WarWhen it ended, Gaza was controlled by Egypt and Jordan seized the West Bank. Both areas became home to thousands of Palestinians forced to flee from what had now become Israel.

In 1967, Gaza, the West Bank as well as the Golan Heights were seized by Israel after its forces emerged triumphant in the much celebrated Six-Day War. Israeli occupation was to last for years. 

In 1987, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank launched the intifada or popular uprising against Israeli rule. Five years later, 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation agreed under the Oslo Accords to mutual recognition and limited self-rule for for the West Bank and Gaza.


2. What is Gaza and who controls it?

-- GRAPHIC: AFP

The Gaza Strip is an area about half the size of Singapore on the border with Egypt up against the Mediterranean Sea.

Technically part of the Palestinian Authority, it has been governed since 2007 by the militant group Hamas. Branded as a terrorist organisation, Hamas refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist and wants Palestinians to be able to return to their old home - and refuses to renounce violence to achieve its aims.

Hamas recently agreed to form a unity government with the other main Palestinian political faction, Fatah, which rules the West Bank. The new Palestinian Unity Government recognises the State of Israel. But the outbreak of current hostilities pitting Hamas against Israel has left the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority on the sidelines.

Since 2005, when it left Gaza,  Israel has held the territory under a blockade, which means it controls its borders and limits who can get in and out.


3. What sparked this latest wave of violence?

While rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli military incursions in the West Bank are regular occurrences, the abduction of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June brought the tensions to a fever pitch. The bodies of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel were found on June 30.

The Israeli government blamed Hamas for their deaths. Hamas denied responsibility but praised the abductions.

Israel carried out arrests and demolished homes of the suspects in the West Bank, and launched airstrikes against targets in Gaza that were used to lob rockets into Israel.

Palestinian militants responded by stepping up rocket attacks and clashing with Israeli troops.

The mood darkened further when a Palestinian teenager was abducted and killed in Jerusalem in what was seen as a possible revenge killing. The news sparked clashes between protesting Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem.

The attacks quickly escalated. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired rockets with a reach that Israel had not previously seen, with air raid sirens going off as far away as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

4. What are the terms of the ceasefire?

As part of the negotiated truce, Israel has agreed to "ease" the blockade on Gaza, opening border crossings to allow humanitarian aid and construction materials into the teritory, CNN cited a senior Egyptian government official as saying.

As part of easing the blockade, Israel will also extend the fishing limit off the coast of Gaza to 9.3kms, the official said.

Reconstruction materials and humanitarian supplies will also be allowed, according to Middle East Eye website, quoting Palestinian diplomatic sources.

However, the controversial issues of opening up a seaport, ending the aerial blockade and the freeing of Palestinian prisoners have not been finalised and the two sides are expected to resume negotiations at a later date.

Both sides agreed to return to Cairo for further, indirect talks since Israel and Hamas have refused to meet face to face.


5. What was the cost?

A Palestinian woman walks past what remains of her home in Shejaiya on August 27, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

The cost can be measured in lives lost, but also in economic and political fallout.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the latest phase of the conflict. The United Nations estimates that more than 70 per cent of the victims were civilians.

Sixty-seven Israelis - 64 of them soldiers - were killed, according to the United Nations. A foreign worker in Israel was also killed.

The fighting displaced more than 500,000 Palestinians, according to official accounts, and left thousands of homes damaged.

It's not exactly clear how much money the fighting cost both sides, but observers have put the number in the billions of dollars.


6. Any winner?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pauses as he delivers a speech during a press conference in Jerusalem, on August 27, 2014.  -- PHOTO: AFP

Israel and the Palestinians both boasted of victory but analysts say Hamas received only promises while the conflict aggravated divisions in the Israeli leadership.

“After 50 days of fighting, both sides were exhausted so that’s why they reached a ceasefire,” said Middle East analyst Eyal Zisser of the Israeli Moshe Dayan Institute.

Jean-Francois Legrain, a researcher of the Muslim and Arab world at France’s CNRS, said the claims of victory were aimed at “public opinion”.

For Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the truce came too late for voters.

On August 25, a poll found that 38 percent of Israelis were satisfied with the prime minister, a figure that plunged from 82 percent just before the conflict started on July 8. Netanyahu looks increasingly isolated in government and avoided a vote in his security Cabinet on the truce, according to Israeli media reports, because half were against it.

7. What's next?

If the ceasefire holds, and the negotiators go back to Cairo, the fact that Israel and Hamas do not talk to one another may prove problematic.

In any talks, Palestinians are likely to also include a demand that Egypt lift its blockade of Gaza dating back to 2007.

Egypt, just like Israel, tightened restrictions on Gaza's borders after Hamas won political control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority.

Sources: BBC, CNN, Deutsche Welle, ABC News, CBS News, Middle East Eye, AFP

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