A fragile ceasefire in Gaza survived a second day Wednesday as Israel and Palestinians prepared for talks in Cairo to try to extend it and US Secretary of State John Kerry called for a two-state solution.
The 72-hour ceasefire, which came into effect on Tuesday and carried past midnight into Wednesday, has brought relief to millions on both sides of the conflict after a month of fighting. Israeli and Palestinian delegations are now set for what are expected to be tough talks aimed at securing a permanent ceasefire.
Kerry told the BBC the US fully supported Israel's right to defend itself against militant rocket attacks: "No country can live with that condition and the United States stands squarely behind Israel's right to defend itself in those circumstances. Period."
He said that Hamas, which controls Gaza, had "behaved in an unbelievably shocking manner engaging in this activity and, yes, there has been horrible collateral damage as a result."
On the question of Palestinian demands for a lifting of Israel's blockade of Gaza, Kerry said, "What we want to do is support the Palestinians in their desire to improve their lives and to get food in and to open crossings and to reconstruct and have greater freedom."
But he said that had to come "with a greater responsibility towards Israel, which means giving up rockets". Kerry said all this would only come together with a "bigger, broader approach to the underlying solution of two states" that would provide security for Israel and "a better life and greater freedoms for the Palestinians".
Officials on both sides confirmed sending small teams to Cairo, but they bring conflicting demands and face an uphill diplomatic battle. The Palestinians insist Israel end its eight-year blockade of Gaza and open border crossings, while Israel wants Gaza fully disarmed.
But after the longest period of quiet since fighting began four weeks ago, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said he expected “the ceasefire to expand into another 72 hours and beyond”.
The United States is set to participate in the Cairo talks. “We are determining at what level and in what capacity and when,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington.
In Gaza City, people came out in numbers on Tuesday afternoon, children played on the street and the beach, and some shops reopened for the first time in days.
Others ventured home for the first time only to witness scenes of devastation.
“What am I going to tell my wife and children? I don’t want them to see this! They will go crazy,” said Khayri Hasan al-Masri, a father of three who returned to his heavily damaged home in Beit Hanun in the north after fleeing when Israel’s ground offensive began on July 17.
Israel’s security cabinet convened to discuss efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire deal but broke up without any public statement.
In southern Israel, there was relief but scepticism. “I never trust Hamas,” said Orly Doron, an Israeli mother living in a kibbutz on the Gaza border that has been battered by rocket fire. “We had three or four ceasefires during this war; we all saw they weren’t kept.”
Up to $6bn worth of damage in Gaza
The Palestinian health ministry said 1,875 Palestinians had been killed during the conflict, including 430 children, and said 9,567 people had been wounded, including 2,878 children.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Deputy Economy Minister Taysir Amro said the 29-day war had caused total damage of up to $6 billion (€4.5 billion).
Israel has been subject to increasingly harsh criticism over the high number of civilian casualties. A British parliamentary committee said on Wednesday that excessive Israeli restrictions on Palestinian territories cannot be justified on the grounds they protect the Jewish state.
The Israeli army says it destroyed 32 cross-border tunnels, struck nearly 4,800 targets and killed 900 Palestinian “terrorists” but estimated that Hamas still had 3,000 rockets.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-08-06