Gaza: death toll at 1,170; ceasefire in sight?

Israeli troops again pounded Gaza Jan. 16 after Hamas offered a conditional truce amid a diplomatic push to end the offensive. For a third week, the Israeli army locked down the occupied West Bank for 48 hours after Hamas called for a day of “wrath” against the offensive. Since Israel unleashed Operation Cast Lead on Dec. 27, Gaza medics say 1,169 have been killed, including at least 370 children, and 85 women. There have been more than 5,015 injured, including at least 1,745 children. (Middle East Online, Ma’an News Agency, Jan. 16)

Israeli cabinet to vote on ceasefire
Israeli Radio reported late Jan. 16 that a proposed unilateral ceasefire will go to a vote before the cabinet the following day. Earlier, Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad in Cairo said his government had rejected several of the proposed Egyptian ceasefire terms, even after Hamas officials announced that they would agree to the Egyptian initiative.

Israeli sources said they had received assurances from Egypt that measures would be taken to halt arms smuggling from the country into Gaza, including the implementation of “technological measures” and “international experts” to identify smuggling tunnels. What the unilateral ceasefire does not address is Hamas’ demand for the opening of the Gaza borders so residents, aid and goods can move freely in and out of the enclave.

The deputy head of Hamas’s Damascus-based leadership in exile, Mussa Abu Marzuk, said the organization is ready to accept a one-year renewable truce if Israel pulls its troops out of Gaza and lifts the blockade. Hamas is awaiting Israel’s response, Abu Marzuk said. (Ma’an News Agency, Jan. 16)

General Assembly calls for ceasefire
The UN General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution Jan. 16 for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza—rejecting a more radical text proposed by a group of Muslim and Latin American states led by Venezuela. The resolution was voted up by 142 countries, with four opposed and eight abstaining. Voting against were Israel, the United States and the Pacific island of Nauru.

The assembly’s resolution followed closely the text of a Security Council resolution adopted last week. Like the Council’s text, GA resolution calls for “an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.” (Reuters, Jan. 17)

Arab states demand ceasefire
Arab leaders opened an emergency summit Jan. 16 in Qatar’s capital, Doha—although they failed to meet the two-thirds quorum of the 22-member Arab League, with regional powers Egypt and Saudi Arabia refusing to attend. A joint communique issued at the end of the summit called on all Arab states to cut ties with Israel in response to the Gaza offensive. “Israel must cease its assault on Gaza and leave unconditionally,” it said, emphasizing that all the enclave’s border crossings should be opened to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aids. (Xinhua, Jan. 17)

Qatar joined Mauritania, Venezuela and Bolivia in breaking diplomatic ties with Israel. Syria’s Bashir Assad criticized Arab nations for not attending the summit. “Israel is a country, built on massacres… [T]he enemy speaks in language of blood only. This is a call to resistance… Resistance is the only way to peace.” (AP, Jan. 16)

Rice, Livni sign “Memorandum of Understanding” on Gaza’s borders
In Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni signed a US-Israeli “Memorandum of Understanding” on securing Gaza’s borders. “The MOU that Foreign Minister Livni and I will sign should be thought of as one of the elements of trying to help bring into being a durable ceasefire,” said Rice. “There are a number of conditions that need to be obtained if a ceasefire is to be durable. Among them is to do something about the weapons smuggling.” Details of the MOU were not revealed, but State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said “the essential element of this [document] is to inhibit the ability of Hamas to rearm.” (Middle East Online, Jan. 16)

Israel denies war crimes
Israel continued to deny allegations that it is committing war crimes in Gaza. “Where you have war, you have war crimes. And the only question is how many, how frequent and how serious,” said attorney Jonathan Drimmer, an international law specialist at Georgetown University. “Hamas seems to be using human shields. Israel seems to be taking the bait. Whether they are doing so in a way that violates the laws of war is a little bit less clear.”

Drimmer says under international law, Israel has the right to respond to attacks from civilian areas, but is required to do everything possible to minimize civilian casualties. Israeli embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled says Israel is doing that. “Israel is operating in Gaza in accordance with international law,” he said. “We are making every effort to avoid harming Palestinian civilians. But at the same time we can not be expected sit back and just receive a barrage of thousands of rockets on our people just because they are shooting out of civilian population [areas] in Gaza and holding 1.5 million Gazans as hostage.” (VOA, Jan. 17)

See our last post on the Gaza.

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