Hamas and Israel agree to end Gaza escalation


Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas announced Monday they have reached a Qatari-mediated deal to end more than three weeks of cross-border exchanges of fire with the Jewish state of Israel.

After talks with Qatari envoy Mohammed el-Emadi, “an understanding was reached to rein in the latest escalation and end (Israeli) aggression against our people,” said the office of the Palestinian group’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar.

In the latest escalation, Israel has carried out the bombing on Gaza almost daily since August 6. Gaza is an impoverished area that is home to some two million people, a large majority of them Muslims.

The Jewish state had been carrying out these attacks with one of the most advanced weapons systems in the world by presenting the launch of “airborne incendiary devices” across the border as an excuse.

The “fire bombs”, as Israel would call them, are actually crude devices fitted to balloons, inflated condoms or plastic bags that rarely do any serious harm to life.

But Israeli fire brigade claimed that these balloons had caused more than 400 blazes and damaged swathes of farmland in southern Israel.

An Egyptian delegation had been shuttling between the two sides to try to broker a renewal of an informal truce under which Israel committed to ease its 13-year-old blockade of Gaza in return for calm on the border.

The delegation was joined by Emadi, who also held talks with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.

A Hamas source said there had been “a total halt” to balloon and other attacks against Israel, in agreement with other factions in the coastal strip.

“Fuel supplies will return and the power station will be restarted from Tuesday,” the source said.

A punitive Israeli-imposed ban on fuel deliveries cut electricity to just four hours a day, supplied from the Israeli grid.

– Crossing to reopen –

COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry unit that oversees civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, said in a statement that after “efforts to calm the situation”, it would “resume the routine activity of the Kerem Shalom Crossing, including the entry of fuel products”, starting Tuesday.

“In addition, the fishing zone of the Gaza Strip will be expanded to 15 nautical miles,” it said.

But, COGAT warned: “If Hamas, which is accountable for all actions that are taken in the Gaza Strip, fails to stand its obligations, Israel will act accordingly.”

The Hamas source added that work would be allowed to start on the construction of a new power line, while a $30-million Qatari aid tranche for Gaza would be expanded to $35 million, with the difference used to cover public servants’ salaries.

Financial aid from gas-rich Qatar has been a major component of a truce first agreed more than a year ago and renewed several times since.

The fire balloons launched in recent weeks were widely seen as an attempt by Hamas to improve the terms of the informal deal.

Sources close to Hamas had said it also wanted other measures to ease living conditions in the territory, including the extension of an industrial zone in the east and an increase in the number of Israeli work permits issued to Gazans once anti-coronavirus restrictions have been lifted.

But disagreements over implementation have fuelled repeated flare-ups with the Islamist group, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

Such flare-ups escalated into full-blown conflicts in 2008, 2012 and 2014, and mediators have been working to prevent a new war.