Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire after a week of fighting that left nearly 160 people, almost all of them Palestinians, dead. In doing so, a major ground invasion of the besieged enclave has been averted, saving countless lives.
The BBC reports that Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamel Amr announced the ceasefire at a Cairo press conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who joined in Egyptian-led negotiations on Wednesday. Egypt was key to brokering the deal; the United States also played an instrumental role. The ceasefire is set to go into effect at 9:00 p.m. Cairo time.
Although details of the agreement are not yet clear, Israel had demanded that all hostile fire from Gaza, including the hundreds of rockets fired at Israel by Hamas militants, end and that international efforts are undertaken to prevent Hamas from re-arming. Hamas' demands included an end to targeted assassinations of its leaders and an end to the crippling economic blockade of Gaza imposed to punish the population for supporting what Israel says are terrorist groups. Israeli sources told Reuters that the blockade would not be lifted.
Israel has threatened to resume military strikes against Gaza in the future if Hamas does not adhere to the conditions of the agreement.
President Barack Obama hailed the ceasefire and praised both Israel and Egypt.
Sec. Clinton said that all parties must now "focus on reaching a durable outcome that promises regional stability and advances the security, dignity and legitimate aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis alike."
The ceasefire comes after a week of Israeli aerial, naval and artillery bombardment of the densely-populated Gaza strip. Israel was responding to hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas and other militants resisting decades of Israeli occupation and oppression. Five Israelis, four of them civilians, were killed by rocket and mortar fire. At least 150 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombardment, including dozens of civilians and many children. More than 1,100 were injured.
In an attack that shocked Israelis and brought back horrific memories of the 2000-2005 al-Aqsa Intifada, 27 Israelis were injured, some of them seriously, in a terror bombing of a Tel Aviv bus.
But it was Gaza that bore the brunt of the bombing during Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense. Israeli attempts to destroy as many Hamas rockets as possible resulted in widespread devastation of the besieged enclave of 1.7 million people, most of them refugees from past conflicts, notably Israel's 1948-49 ethnic cleansing campaign in which some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled, often by force and sometimes by massacre, to make way for the new Jewish state. This time, the death toll and damage were not as severe as during Israel's 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead invasion, during which more than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed, thousands of homes were destroyed and billions of dollars in economic damage occurred. But as in Cast Lead, families were wiped out and many homes, businesses and vital infrastructure were destroyed or damaged.
Although the current ceasefire may mean an end to immediate hostilities, the wider Arab-Israeli conflict still rages on with no end in sight. Israel, which has been accused of ethnic cleansing and apartheid, still occupies the West Bank and maintains an economic stranglehold on Gaza. Israel also continues to colonize the occupied West Bank by building and expanding illegal settlements. And Hamas remains capable of launching hundreds of rockets into Israel. Not only that, but the rockets and missiles in its arsenal, many of them from Iran, are more sophisticated and have longer ranges than previous weapons, as evidenced by unprecedented attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
UPDATE: FULL TEXT OF ISRAEL-HAMAS PEACE AGREEMENT:
Agreement of Understanding For a Ceasefire in the Gaza Strip
1: (no title given for this section)
A. Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.
B. All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.
C. Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.
D. Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.
2: Implementation mechanisms:
A. Setting up the zero hour for the ceasefire understanding to enter into effect.
B. Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon.
C. Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding. In case of any observations Egypt as the sponsor of this understanding shall be informed to follow up.