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Uneasy calm in Israel, Gaza ahead of talks

Thursday, November 22, 2012 1:25 AM


TEL AVIV, Israel, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- A tentative calm remained in Israel and Gaza Thursday as talks seeking to resolve longstanding grievances were to begin after a 24-hour cooling-off period.

The talks, outlined in a one-page memorandum of understanding agreed to late Wednesday, were widely expected to address Israeli demands for long-term border security, including an end to Palestinian missile launches over the border, officials said.

They were also expected to address a core Hamas demand that Israel lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip and open border crossings, the officials said.

Israel shut border crossings into Gaza seven years ago in an effort to prevent Hamas from arming itself.

Israel, the United States, Canada, the European Union and Japan classify Hamas as a terrorist organization, while Arab nations, Russia and Turkey do not.

The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt was widely expected to be key in the early talks. That crossing -- recognized by the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and confirmed during Israel's 1982 withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula -- is largely limited to pedestrians. Hamas has said it wants the crossing's use expanded to include goods.

The memo calls for "opening the crossing and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods." It does not mention an Israeli requirement that Hamas be prevented from rearming, either immediately or in the future.

But Israeli officials believed the fact the deal was announced in Cairo by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton amounted to a guarantee their security concerns were accepted, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported.

The agreement came despite a fierce overnight barrage of airstrikes by Israel in Gaza and a midday bombing attack on a public bus in Tel Aviv that left 27 Israelis wounded, three critically.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a Palestinian nationalist organization allegedly backed by Syria and Iran, claimed responsibility for the bombing. Hamas praised the bombing.

Several hours later, after Washington and Cairo negotiated the cease-fire, Hamas joined the United States and Israel in commending Egypt's role in brokering the deal.

The eight days of violence killed 170 Palestinians, the Ma'an News Agency reported, and five Israelis, Israel said.

U.S. President Barack Obama phoned both Morsi and Netanyahu. In his call to Netanyahu, Obama said the White House would use the cease-fire opportunity to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza, the White House said in a statement.

Netanyahu said in a televised news conference some Israelis still expected "a much harsher military operation, and it is very possible we will be compelled to embark on one."

But he said he agreed with Obama "it is worth giving the cease-fire a chance."

Khaled Mashal, Hamas's top leader, thanked Iran for its military support.

"This is a point on the way to a great defeat for Israel," he said. "Israel failed in all its objectives."

"Their aim was to deter us," he said. "The resistance showed them. This deterrence has failed. Israel has failed in all of its goals, praise be to God."

Hamas refers to itself and other Palestinian militants as a resistance force fighting an Israeli occupation.

The Israeli military said the campaign, dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, had "accomplished its pre-determined objectives" by damaging Hamas's command-and-control apparatus, demolishing its infrastructure and destroying the network of border-crossing tunnels used to smuggle weapons.

(Source: UPI )
(Source: Quotemedia)

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