Tag Archives: Palestinians

End of Gaza war doesn’t translate into peace

Palestinians sit outside their house that witnesses said was heavily shelled by Israel during the offensive, in the Shejaia neighbourhood, east of Gaza City August 31, 2014. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Palestinians sit outside their house that witnesses said was heavily shelled by Israel during the offensive, in the Shejaia neighbourhood, east of Gaza City August 31, 2014.

(Reuters) – A week after the guns fell silent in the Gaza war, Israel and the Palestinians seem to have little appetite or incentive for a return to U.S.-sponsored peace and statehood talks that collapsed five months ago.

With conflicts raging in Ukraine, Iraq and Syria – and the future of the Gaza Strip largely uncharted by a broadbrush Egyptian-mediated ceasefire deal – world powers also are not rushing headlong into the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

The parties themselves, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bickering governing coalition and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, are on a collision course over threatened Palestinian unilateral moves toward statehood and exploration of war crimes prosecution against Israel in the absence of direct talks.

Israel drew Palestinian and international criticism on Sunday by announcing a major appropriation of occupied land in the West Bank, the most significant such move in 30 years.

As head of a governing coalition divided over trading territory for peace, Netanyahu is now speaking, in amorphous terms, of an alternative route towards ending decades of conflict – a “new horizon” – or possible regional alliance with moderate Arab countries alarmed, like Israel, by radical Islam.

Closer to home and with the Gaza situation still in flux, there is nothing on the immediate horizon as far as peacemaking with Abbas is concerned, Israeli government sources said.

Under the Egyptian-brokered truce agreement, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to address complex issues such as Hamas’s demands for a Gaza seaport and the release of Palestinian prisoners via indirect talks starting within a month.

With the start of those negotiations still up in the air, Netanyahu wants to see whether Abbas takes over responsibility from Hamas for administering Gaza’s borders and that measures are taken to prevent the group from smuggling in weaponry.

Netanyahu, who appears to be weathering an approval rating plunge after the Gaza war ended without a clear victor, took a swipe at Abbas last week, summing up a conflict which the Palestinian leader persistently tried to bring to an end.

“Abu Mazen has to choose which side he is on,” Netanyahu told a news conference, using Abbas’s nickname.

The comment harked back to Israel’s decision in April to cut off peace talks with Abbas after he clinched a unity deal with Hamas, a bitter rival that had seized the Gaza Strip from his Fatah forces in 2007.

Those negotiations, on creating a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, were already going nowhere, with Palestinians pointing to expanding Israeli settlement on land they claim as their own and balking at Israel’s demand to recognize it as the Jewish homeland.

REGIONAL PEACE

In an editorial laden with scepticism, Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper questioned whether “as in the past” Netanyahu’s remarks on casting a regional peace net, “are only empty slogans”.

Some of his cabinet ministers are also pressing Netanyahu to get moving on a wider track.

“We cannot and will not allow a situation whereby this ceasefire is the beginning of the countdown to the next round of fire. If we don’t take the diplomatic initiative, this is exactly what will happen,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in now-dormant talks with the Palestinians, said: “(Netanyahu) has to be put to the test on this.”

Livni, speaking on Israel Radio, said Israel should “create a front with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – those countries threatened by all of those beheaders running around the region”.

But, she said, “they can cooperate with us only if there is a basic minimum of a peace process – dialogue with the moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority”.

In the past, Netanyahu has expressed little interest in embracing a regional peace plan, such as the 2002 Arab initiative that offered normalized ties with Israel if it withdrew fully from territory captured in a 1967 war.

But last year, he signaled in a speech to parliament a readiness to consider the proposal, raised at an Arab League summit 12 years ago, as long as it did not contain “edicts”.

Any land-for-peace moves would elicit even more dissent from right-wingers in his government who have been vocal over Netanyahu’s reluctance to heed their calls during the Gaza war for a full-scale invasion to crush Hamas.

For now, he appears to be in little danger of seeing his political partnerships unravel.

About a month into the war, 77 percent of Israelis surveyed in a Haaretz-Dialog poll described Netanyahu’s performance during the conflict as either good or excellent. That figure dropped to around 50 percent after the ceasefire was announced.

But the snap poll taken a day after the truce went into effect showed that despite his flagging popularity, he continued to top, by a wide margin, the list of politicians whom Israelis believed were most suited to lead them as prime minister.

The second-place pick was “Don’t know”.

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Israel to open dialogue with International Criminal Court

Foreign Ministry official confirms that Israel has decided to pursue talks with ICC over its preliminary probe into last summer’s Gaza conflict • Decision a reversal of policy, as Israel has so far refused to cooperate with the ICC.

Israel has decided to pursue an open dialogue with the International Criminal Court in The Hague over its preliminary investigation into Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Thursday’s decision represents a reversal for Israel, as it has so far refused to cooperate with the ICC, a report in Haaretz newspaper said.

The report quoted an unnamed official as saying Israel will not cooperate with the ICC, but will relay its position that the court has no authority over the matter.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the report, but declined to elaborate on the steps Israel plans to take in the matter.

In May, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda urged Israel’s cooperation on the probe, saying she may be forced to decide whether to launch a full-scale investigation based on Palestinian allegations of war crimes.

The Palestinian Authority submitted evidence of alleged Israeli war crimes to the ICC in late June, in an attempt to fast-track the international panel’s inquiry into last year’s Gaza conflict.

The ICC is currently conducting a preliminary investigation to determine whether to open a full-fledged war crimes probe. U.N. data suggest over 2,000 Palestinians, including more than 1,400 civilians, were killed in the conflict.

Sweden and Israel tensions deepen

Sweden and Israel tensions deepen

Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser was called in by the ministry’s deputy director general for Europe, Aviv Shir-On.

According to the AFP news agency, he “protested and expressed Israel’s disappointment” at Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s announcement about his country’s shift in approach, which he made during his first speech in parliament on Friday.

Shir-On warned that such a move would “not contribute to the relations between Israel and the Palestinians, but in fact worsen them.”

His comments follow similar strong remarks from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman over the weekend. They denounced Löfven’s hopes that recognition would be a step towards resolving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Lieberman said he regreted that Sweden’s new Prime Minister was “in a hurry to make statements on Sweden’s position regarding recognition of a Palestinian state, apparently before he had time even to study the issue in depth.”

Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in East Jerusalem.

Gaza’s boundaries are already clearly defined. But there have been intense debates over what areas should be included in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel has long insisted that the Palestinians can only receive their promised state through direct negotiations and not through other diplomatic channels.
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are currently suspended.
Speaking from the Israeli foreign ministry on Monday, Aviv Shir-On said the newly-elected Swedish premier’s decision to focus on the Palestinian issue was “strange” given the turmoil, wars and “daily acts of horror” taking place in the region.

The Swedish embassy in Israel did not comment on the meeting.

Sweden voted in favour of the Palestinians obtaining the rank of observer state at the United Nations in 2012, which was granted despite opposition from the United States, Israel and other countries.

Palestine just joined the International Criminal Court. Here’s what that means.

Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a treaty to make Palestine the newest member state of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The move was greeted with jubilation in Ramallah, where there were reportedly fireworks to mark the occasion, and by outrage in the Israeli government.

But the practical consequences of Palestine’s move to join the court are much less clear. Here’s what you need to know about what Palestine joining the court really means, why Israel and the US oppose the move, and what this means for the Israel-Palestine conflict.

1) So is Palestine a member of the ICC now?

Palestinian treaty signing

Mahmoud Abbas signs international agreements, including the ICC’s Treaty of Rome, on December 31, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Probably, but it’s not 100 percent for sure. If news reports are correct, Palestine has acceded to the ICC treaty, and thus completed the main legal process for joining the court. But there are still some significant legal questions to be worked out.

The most important question is whether the court considers Palestine a state. Only states can join the ICC, so if Palestine isn’t a state, then the membership question will be moot. In the past, the ICC prosecutor has said that Palestine couldn’t join the court until it was recognized by the UN General Assembly.

But in 2012, the General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a state. So, as far as the Office of the Prosecutor is concerned, Palestine has been eligible for membership since then.

However, if challenged, the prosecutor’s decision on statehood could be overruled by the court itself, which could apply a different legal standard that would be at least somewhat more difficult for Palestine to meet.

The second issue is the definition of Palestinian territory. By becoming a member state, Palestine will give the court jurisdiction over crimes occurring within its territory.

But the very nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict means the boundaries of Palestinian territory would almost certainly be a matter of dispute. That issue would also probably have to be litigated before any prosecution could proceed.

2) Does this mean that Palestine can sue Israel, or have Netanyahu dragged off to the Hague for prosecution?

ICC building

The International Criminal Court building in the Hague (VINCENT JANNINK/AFP/Getty Images)

No.

First of all, the ICC is a criminal court, not a civil one. That means that, despite headlines you may have read about Palestine suing Israel at the ICC, the ICC does not actually hear lawsuits.

And the decision about when to bring a criminal case against any individual lies with the Office of the Prosecutor, not with any particular state party. Abbas doesn’t get to force the ICC to take up his case.

What Palestine will be able to do, assuming it clears the legal hurdles described above, is refer particular “situations” to the ICC prosecutor, and request that they be investigated.

Palestine has submitted a declaration granting the court retroactive jurisdiction to June 13, 2014, which includes the Gaza invasion that summer. So any crimes that took place within that period, including those in the Gaza war, could potentially be referred to the court as part of a situation for investigation.

But it’s important to understand that if Palestine makes that kind of referral, it wouldn’t be taken as an invitation to just investigate possible Israeli crimes: any investigation would certainly look at possible Palestinian crimes as well.

The Office of the Prosecutor could investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by Hamas or other Palestinian groups, as well as those allegedly committed by Israel.

In any case, it’s actually very likely that the Court wouldn’t have jurisdiction over a number of alleged Israeli crimes. That’s because of a rule called “complementarity,” which strips the court of jurisdiction over crimes that have already been investigated and prosecuted in good faith by a national court.

Israel has a strong judiciary that actively prosecutes war-crimes cases involving its soldiers (even if the courts’ decisions are often criticized as too lenient).

So to exercise jurisdiction over those offenses, the ICC would have to demonstrate that the Israeli courts had acted in bad faith, which is a high hurdle to clear — it requires more than just an acquittal.

However, the issue of building settlements in the occupied territories has not been taken up by Israeli courts, so that could be a more likely target for an ICC prosecution, as discussed further below.

3) What are the chances the ICC will prosecute Israeli leaders?

Fatou Bensouda

 

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (TOUSSAINT KLUITERS/AFP/Getty Images)

The chances of them doing this any time soon are vanishingly small.

First of all, there are a bunch of things that would have to happen before that, and they will take a long time. The ICC will have to make a final determination on the question of Palestinian statehood, as well as the territorial limits on the court’s jurisdiction.

Then the Office of the Prosecutor will have to conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if there are serious enough crimes to warrant the court’s attention, and whether national authorities are already handling them.

IT IS LIKELY THAT PALESTINIANS, NOT ISRAELIS, WOULD BE THE FIRST TO FACE TRIAL

If the Office of the Prosecutor determines both that the crimes are sufficiently and that they are not being handled by national authorities, then the next phase is further investigation into specific crimes and individual perpetrators. All of that will take years.

But even if the court does decide to prosecute senior Israeli officials, there is no guarantee that they will actually be arrested, much less tried. The ICC has no police to execute its arrest warrants, which in practice means they often go unenforced.

For example, the court issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2009 (and then again, for good measure, in 2010), and he remains in office to this day, resolutely and thoroughly un-arrested.

More broadly, the court has shown reluctance to get involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict in the past, and there is no reason to believe that attitude has changed.

In the event that the court does decide to bring prosecutions, law professor Kevin Jon Heller has pointed out that it would be far simpler to prosecute Hamas’s leaders than Israel’s, so it is quite likely that Palestinians and not Israelis would be the first ones to face trial.

The discussion around the ICC has focused on the Gaza conflict, but a number of commentators have written that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank could more likely lead to prosecution of Israeli leaders, both because the settlement policy’s architects are at the highest level of government, and because Israeli courts have not prosecuted the matter themselves.

That probably is the most significant risk for Israeli officials — but it doesn’t mean that the risk is large, or immediate.

4) Why is the US so opposed to Palestine joining the ICC?

Kerry Netanyahu

Secretary of State Kerry meets with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Rome on December 15, 2014 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images)

Because it’s an act of non-cooperation with the peace process, which the US believes must be negotiated directly between Israelis and Palestinians to ever achieve peace.

The US (and Israeli) position is that joining the ICC is an act of escalation by Palestinian leaders, and one that indicates a lack good-faith involvement in the peace process and that makes the peace process harder.

On December 31st, the State Department issued a statement condemning Palestinians’ decision to join the court, calling it an “escalatory” step that “badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace.”

5) Why did Palestine want to join the ICC?

Palestine at ICC

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki and Palestinian Ambassador to the Netherlands Nabil Abuznaid visit the International Criminal Court in August 2014 (Martijn Beekman/AFP/Getty Images)

There are two theories on this. The first is that this is simply a further step in Palestine’s years-long strategy to gain recognition as a state, one UN agency and country at a time.

Previous steps have included joining UNESCO, the 2012 UN General Assembly vote mentioned above, and an ill-fated attempt to get the Security Council to vote on Palestinian statehood just last week.

The theory behind that strategy is to raise the cost of Israeli occupation by increasing pressure from the international community, and to assert the idea of Palestinian nationhood against a conflict that many Palestinians believe is aimed at robbing them of a state.

The second theory is that the Palestinians actually hope the court will bring charges against Israeli officials, and that exposing them to investigation and prosecution will increase Palestinian leverage in the peace negotiations. However, as explained above, that’s a risky strategy, especially as it places Hamas officials at risk.

6) Will this matter for the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Peace talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the press in 2013, alongside chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Yes, it will probably matter at least somewhat, for three reasons.

First, as noted above, this is an act of non-cooperation with the peace process by the Palestinians. That happens in all peace processes, and this one in particular has suffered an awful lot of setbacks before.

But when one side undercuts the peace process, that makes it harder for the other side to make difficult concessions. In this case, it may make it more difficult for Israel’s leaders to convince Israeli hardliners to agree to concessions, because they’ll be able to argue that Palestine can’t be trusted to engage in good faith. That limits the scope of negotiations, and makes peace more difficult.

At the same time, another view — the one shared by supporters of this move — is that Israel has been so stubbornly resistant to reaching a peace deal that it is necessary for Palestinians to bring greater international pressure to force Israeli leaders to make necessary concessions.

Second, ICC membership limits the opportunity to offer amnesty for leaders on both sides as part of an eventual peace deal, because the ICC wouldn’t be bound by any bilateral amnesty agreement between Israel and Palestine. In other words,

Israeli and Palestinian leaders can’t sign a peace deal in which they promise to grant one another’s leaders amnesty, because that amnesty won’t extend to the ICC. From the perspective of international justice that could, of course, be a good thing.

And it’s not clear that amnesty would ever have been a part of a peace deal anyway. But it’s still a potentially important negotiating chip that has been taken off the table.

Finally, the ICC could impact Palestinian politics if its initial investigation or prosecution focuses on Hamas, which has long feuded with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. That could affect the balance of power within Palestinian politics, and make it more difficult for Palestinian leaders to negotiate with full authority.

‘NSA shared information about Arab-Americans with Israel’

Edward Snowden, a former contract employee at the National Security Agency (photo credit: AP/The Guardian/File)
Edward Snowden, a former contract employee at the National Security Agency (photo credit: AP/The Guardian/File)

According to Edward Snowden, communication intercepts on US citizens were transferred to top Israeli intelligence unit 8200

he US National Security Agency routinely passed private, unedited communications of American citizens to Israel, an expert on the intelligence agency said Wednesday citing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

James Bamford, writing in the New York Times’ Op-Ed section, said Snowden told him the intercepts included communications of Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the information.

“It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen,” Bamford quoted Snowden as saying.

Snowden said the material was routinely transferred to Unit 8200, a top Israeli intelligence division of the military, which acts as the Israeli counterpart to the NSA.

Bamford cited a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and 8200 outlining transfers that have occurred since 2009.

Leaked by Snowden and first reported by the British newspaper the Guardian, the material included “unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.”

The memorandum indicates the data is routinely sent in raw form, without editing out names or other personally identifiable information, Bamford said.

He noted allegations in Israel by 43 veterans of Unit 8200, who in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, accused the unit of using information it collects to maintain control over West Bank civilians. They expressed their refusal to continue taking part in such activity.

The missive stressed that, in the opinion of the reservists, such information was often used as a tool to exert control over innocent Palestinian civilians and to turn the residents of the West Bank against each other.

The reservists added that the unit’s methods of information-gathering unjustly invaded the privacy of Palestinian civilians.

The data gathered by the unit included “Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce them into becoming collaborators,” Bamford wrote.

Other members of the intelligence group, however, refuted the allegations by the dissenting reservists, claiming that a large portion of information in the letter was false.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor, is wanted by the United States on espionage charges after leaking a mass of secret NSA documents.

The 31-year-old fugitive has claimed asylum in Russia, where he has been granted a three-year residency that allows him to travel abroad.

Bamford, an author of several books on the NSA who specializes in electronic espionage and codebreaking, interviewed Snowden over a three-week period in Moscow for Wired magazine.

Israeli soldiers from elite wire-tapping unit refuse to use ‘extortion’, ‘blackmail’ on Palestinians

Soldiers from Israel’s elite wire-tapping unit are refusing to spy on Palestinians in a rebuke to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel’s intelligence corps has been rocked by a major internal protest over the treatment of Palestinians.

More than 40 former soldiers and current army reservists have signed a letter refusing future service in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) military intelligence wing, known as Unit 8200.

Unit 8200 is often compared to the United States National Security Agency. It uses sophisticated technology to monitor the lives of Palestinians, gathering information which is then used by Israel’s military. It also carries out surveillance overseas.

But the group of soldiers who served in the unit has spoken out about the methods used and the toll they take on innocent civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In witness testimonies, they detail the strategies used by Israel’s elite intelligence corps.

I’m going to have to deal with the fact that people are going to wish for my death, that they’re going to call me a traitor.
One of the signatories to the letter

These include gathering personal information about a person’s sexual preference and using it to blackmail the individual into becoming a collaborator – a Palestinian who hands information to Israeli authorities.

“Any information that might enable extortion of an individual is considered relevant information,” one soldier’s statement said.

“Whether said individual is of a certain sexual orientation, cheating on his wife, or in need of treatment in Israel or the West Bank – he is a target for blackmail.”

The veterans believe the surveillance and intelligence gathering by Unit 8200 is not necessary for Israeli national security.

“The notion of rights for Palestinians does not exist at all, not even as an idea to be disregarded,” one witness statement said.

“Any Palestinian may be targeted and may suffer from sanctions, such as the denial of permits, harassment, extortion, or even direct physical injury.”

In response to the letter, the IDF said in a statement to the ABC: “The Intelligence Corps has no record that the specific violations in the letter ever took place.”

It said the unit’s mission was to protect Israeli civilians.

“Those who serve in the unit undergo a thorough screening process and intense training, which is unmatched by any of the world’s intelligence agencies,” the statement said.

“Throughout the training, a special emphasis is placed on morality, ethics, and proper procedure. Soldiers and officers in the unit act in accordance with their training and remain under the strict supervision of high-ranking officers.”

‘People are going to wish for my death’, soldier says

Several Israeli soldiers who signed the letter have told the ABC they are speaking out because they believe the actions of the unit are aimed at strengthening Israel’s hold over the Palestinian territories.

“What I’m doing is not helping the security of Israel in the long run,” said one former first sergeant.

“It’s only helping to continue the circle of violence and deepening the Israeli hold of Palestinian territories and population.”

One female Sergeant said she felt compelled to join the protest.

“I feel that it’s my obligation, in a sense, to do something about it – to make a stand and say, ‘This is what we’ve been doing’,” she said.

“I don’t feel comfortable with it at all.”

This is not the first time Israeli soldiers have refused to serve on moral grounds.

But it is the most significant such incident for more than a decade, because of the number of soldiers involved and the elite reputation of their intelligence unit.

The letter of refusal has been sent to the Israeli prime minister, the IDF chief of staff and head of military intelligence.

Most of the 43 signatories remain active reservists.

They fear they could be prosecuted and jailed for refusing a military call-up, and they are also worried about the public reaction in Israel amid heightened tension after the recent war in Gaza.

“I’m going to have to deal with the fact that people are going to wish for my death, that they’re going to call me a traitor, that they’re going to treat me as if I am not an Israeli that has lived here for 26 years and who has given so much of herself to this country,” one woman said.

“I’m worried that Israeli society will see us as traitors, as people who are trying to harm Israel, while in reality it’s the opposite. We’re doing this because we feel a sense of urgency, a sense of responsibility for the place we live in,” another captain said.

“The continuous cycle of violence is something that has to be stopped and something we can’t be a part of.”

Film about Stasi intelligence tactics inspired soldier

In a witness statement, one former member of Unit 8200 said they agreed to join the protest after watching the film The Lives of Others, which is based on East German intelligence gathering against civilians before the reunification of Germany.

“On the one hand, I felt solidarity with the victims [in the film], with the oppressed people who were denied such basic rights as I take for granted to be mine,” the former soldier said.

“On the other hand, I realised that the job I had done during my military service was that of the oppressor.

“My first reaction as a discharged soldier was that we do the same things, only much more efficiently.”

Other soldiers revealed that intimate conversations between innocent Palestinians were recorded and used as jokes among the Israeli soldiers.

Another mentions watching from the unit headquarters when a boy is mistakenly killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

“I remember an image on the screen of him in an orchard, and the explosion on the screen, the smoke clearing and his mother running to him, at which point we could see he was a child. The body was small,” he said.

“We realised we had screwed up. I don’t know of any investigation of what had happened, or if it was reviewed at a later date.”

The soldiers said there was little effort to address their moral concerns while they were in full-time service.

“The goal of this unit regarding Palestinians is wrong as a whole and this is what really bothered me,” one former soldier told the ABC.

“Whenever I raised doubts or questions about the morality of things we were doing, I was always told, ‘Everything is OK, we are not doing anything wrong – we are simply gathering information, there is nothing wrong with it, we are not hurting anyone’.

“I knew that, of course, this isn’t true.”

Israel, Hamas Accept Gaza Cease-Fire Accord

Israel and Hamas said they accepted an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire plan to end a seven-week conflict in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and about 70 Israelis.

The cease-fire, announced in a statement by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, started at 7 p.m. local time yesterday and was hailed from mosque loudspeakers in Gaza City as thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets. Rifle-toting militants fired in the air, cheering, “Long live Hamas!”

Under the deal, Gaza’s border crossings with Israel are being opened to let in reconstruction materials and foreign aid, while fishing zones off the coast have been extended, Egypt said. The two sides will resume indirect talks on “other issues” in the coming month, it said.

“We’ve come to an arrangement,” Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Channel 2 television, confirming that Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu accepted the cease-fire. “We didn’t win in a knock-out,” he said.

Palestinians in Gaza City celebrate news of the ceasefire announcement (26 August 2014)

Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, had demanded an end to the blockade on Gaza initiated in 2006 after the group won Palestinian elections. Israel wants the transit points supervised by a third party to prevent arms smuggling. It has called for the disarming of Hamas and other militants groups, which were also involved in the truce talks.

‘Too Costly’

While the cease-fire halts the violence, it may weaken Netanyahu politically because the war was “too long and too costly,” said Shlomo Brom, a retired general and senior fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. Hamas will probably benefit because “they had been pretty much dismissed before the fighting and now they’re a player again.”

Palestinians celebrate what they said was a victory over Israel following a ceasefire in Gaza City August 26, 2014 (Reuters / Mohammed Salem)

Israel’s benchmark TA-25 Index (TA-25) for stocks rose 0.4 percent in Tel Aviv yesterday. Several previous Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreements have collapsed since violence between Israel and Hamas escalated last month.

As Gazans thronged main streets covered in rubble from Israeli air strikes, Hamas leaders including Mahmoud Zahar appeared publicly for the first time since going into hiding when the fighting began in July.

‘Great Victory’

“This is a great victory for the Palestinian people,” said Nabila Salem, a mother of six children, who went into the street to celebrate. “I know the destruction was huge and the pain is difficult, but we’ve gotten used to pain, and it’s the only way to win.”

A Palestinian waves a Hamas flag (R) as others celebrate what they said was a victory over Israel, following a ceasefire in Gaza City August 26, 2014 (Reuters / Suhaib Salem)

Shortly before the agreement went into effect, attacks from both sides intensified. Three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli airstrike at about 6 p.m. local time yesterday, the Gaza health ministry said. Two Israelis were killed by a mortar attack, according to the army, which said rockets also landed in open areas near Tel Aviv. Israel, the U.S. and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Hundreds of the Palestinians killed during 50 days of fighting were women and children, according to Gaza officials. About 70 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers, were killed.

The conflict also has hurt the Israeli economy, prompting the central bank to cut its benchmark interest rate this week for the second consecutive month, to a record 0.25 percent.

Palestinians look at a high-rise building in Gaza City that targeted in an Israeli air strike on 26 August 2014

Egypt, which has been mediating the talks, has joined Israel in imposing a blockade on Gaza. The Egyptian statement didn’t say whether that would be eased.

The U.S. strongly supports the cease-fire and urges “all parties to fully and completely comply with its terms,” Secretary of State John Kerry, who was involved in earlier attempts to broker a truce, said in an e-mailed statement. He said the U.S. is “prepared to work with our international partners on a major reconstruction initiative” in Gaza.

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