Israel's temporary 'ceasefire' already on shaky ground

An Israeli promise to refrain from shelling most of Gaza today to allow for humanitarian aid was met by reports of airstrikes, setting off recriminations.

Khalil Hamra/AP
An elderly Palestinian man makes his way over the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli strikes in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014.

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A unilaterally declared "temporary humanitarian window" by Israel in the Gaza Strip didn't last long, with Palestinian leaders accusing Israeli forces of attacking a Gaza City refugee camp, injuring dozens.

Voice of America quotes Palestinian emergency workers as saying 30 people were injured in an airstrike on the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City just minutes into the cease-fire. Israeli military officials said they were investigating the report.

Israel said it would stop shelling for seven hours starting at 10 a.m. local time (3 a.m. EST), to allow refugees to return to their homes and for humanitarian aid to be delivered. Israel also said its soldiers would continue to carry out operations inside some parts of Gaza during what it called a "cease-fire."

Israel has been carrying out intense military operations around the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where it is trying to destroy a network of Hamas tunnels that could be used to attack Israeli territory. ABC News notes that the Shata refugee camp in Gaza City is "far from Rafah."

Israel's promise of a pause came just hours after Israel killed a Palestinian leader of Islamic Jihad in an airstrike, writes The Washington Post.

The inauspicious start to the cease-fire is in keeping with the conflict's track record; The Guardian notes that nearly all of the seven previous lulls in fighting have ended in traded accusations over violations of the attempted peace.

Still, Israeli analysts told the Guardian that the IDF appears to be winding down its operations unilaterally to avoid negotiations with Hamas for a lasting truce, something that is likely to concern the international community. 

Political leaders and senior diplomats have repeatedly stressed that the two sides must address and resolve underlying issues that led to the current conflict in order to break the cycle of violence.

Efforts to forge a truce resumed in Cairo on Sunday, with Middle East envoy Tony Blair and US special envoy Frank Lowenstein flying in, along with a Palestinian delegation which included representative of the main militant groups in Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. However, Israel declined to send a team to join the talks, in an indication it wants to proceed on its own terms, diminishing prospects for an early breakthrough.

Among demands proposed by the Palestinians are an end to the blockade of Gaza, extending the permitted fishing zone at sea and the removal of the no-go buffer zone inside the border, rehabilitation of Gaza and emergency aid, and a release of prisoners.

Haaretz reports that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested that the UN take over responsibility for the Gaza Strip, in keeping with the UN mandates in East Timor and Kosovo.

"We saw it works quite well there," Mr. Lieberman said. "It requires an agreement between us and the Palestinian Authority. It doesn't require consent from the UN, just from the parties involved – Israel and the PA."

Whether the UN would be willing to step more fully into Gaza is another question, however, as it saw its schools and shelters hit by shelling and airstrikes repeatedly during the conflict, most likely at the hands of IDF forces. Also, in East Timor and Kosovo, local authorities, not foreign powers, controlled the borders and airspace.

The most recent attack on an UN shelter occurred Sunday, when an Israeli airstrike killed at least 10 people in southern Gaza. The Washington Post reports that the missile struck a trio of militants on a motorcycle as it passed a school serving as a refugee shelter, but that shrapnel from the blast ripped through a crowd of refugees nearby, killing at least 7 civilians including a boy, and injuring at least 40 more.

Both the UN and the US strongly condemned the attack. UN chief Ban Ki-moon called it a “moral outrage and a criminal act,” while State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said "the United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling" – a particularly harsh condemnation considering the US's support for Israel and role in arming its military.

“The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians,” Ms. Psaki added. The State Department called for “a full and prompt investigation of this incident” as well as of the recent shelling of other UN schools, her statement said.

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