Bleak outlook for Egyptian ceasefire initiative as Gaza conflict continues

Joel Gulhane
6 Min Read

Spokesman for Hamas Sami Abu Zuhri said on Tuesday the group was never officially approached to participate in a ceasefire agreement put forward by Egypt.

Abu Zuhri told reporters: “Hamas has not received, until now, any initiatives from any party.” He said this is the groups comment on the announcement of the Egyptian initiative, according to a Hamas statement posted on the movement’s website.

Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty, when asked for a response to Hamas’ claim, pointed out that the initiative was made public on Monday night after nearly two weeks of contact with “all sides” and that it refers to all “Palestinian factions”.

Abdelatty added that the ministry was “still waiting” for an official response from “different Palestinian factions” with regards to a ceasefire initiative announced on Monday night.

The Israeli Cabinet accepted the proposal at 9am on Tuesday and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was ordered to “suspend strikes in Gaza”, adding: “If Hamas fires at Israel, we will respond with force.” The airstrikes on the Gaza Strip resumed on Tuesday afternoon in response to continued rocket fire from Palestinian territory.

The IDF counted at least 50 rockets had been launched during the six hours it had suspended airstrikes on Tuesday.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the initiative on Tuesday and called on all sides to accept the proposal, according to Palestinian Authority run news agency WAFA.

Abu Zuhri dismissed reports of disarmament, saying that due to the Israeli occupation “the resistance by all means is a legitimate right of the peoples of the [Palestinian] territories”

The Egyptian initiative is similar to the November 2012 agreement that was brokered by Egypt and the United States. In 2012 there was a specified 24-hour deadline to open the borders to the Gaza Strip to allow the movement of goods and people. The initiative presented on Monday night states this “shall be facilitated once the security situation becomes stable on the ground”.

Another difference between the two initiatives is the absence of a United States official on the ground. In 2012 former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Cairo and announced the ceasefire alongside former Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr. US Secretary of State John Kerry was consulted during the formulation of the latest ceasefire initiative.

An Egyptian foreign ministry official told Daily News Egypt on Monday that Kerry was set to arrive in Cairo on Tuesday for talks on the situation in Gaza. On Tuesday it transpired that Kerry would not visit Cairo but would instead return to Washington. A spokesman for the US embassy in Cairo stressed: “There was no visit we announced to begin with. We never announced from this office or from Washington.” He added: “the official position has been we never announced he was coming to Cairo”.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has reiterated that since the latest Israel-Hamas conflict flared up it has been in contact with “all sides”, which encompass the “different Palestinian factions” including Hamas. The ministry said last week, 10 days of efforts to end the violence had been met with “intransigence and stubbornness”.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry Sameh Shoukry encouraged Arab support Monday for the Egyptian ceasefire initiative while commending Egyptian efforts to the “tragedy of [Arab] people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and East Jerusalem” at the hands of Israeli attacks.

Shoukry, speaking at an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers on Monday, stressed that a ceasefire is absolutely necessary to end ongoing bloodshed in the occupied territories and prevent further escalation in the conflict that, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, has already cost over 190 Palestinian lives.

Shoukry said that because of Egypt’s “historic responsibility” to the Palestinian people, it has “worked from the first moment of the outbreak of the crisis… with all parties to contain the crisis and prevent further escalation”.

Egyptian mediation, according to Shoukry, involved Palestinian and Israeli authorities, “a number of Arab and Islamic countries” as well as international actors, including Kerry.

While encouraging support for the Egyptian ceasefire agreement, Shoukry reminded the Arab League that “Egypt stresses the responsibility of the international community about what is happening in Palestine, and the need to continue efforts to resume negotiations between Palestine and Israel in earnest”, which could ultimately lead to the two-state solution for which the Arab League has been pressing.

Shoukry concluded his speech by calling all concerned parties to give priority to the voice of reason in helping to end the Israeli policy of “collective punishment” on the occupied Palestinian territories.

Additional reporting by Aaron T. Rose


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Joel Gulhane is a journalist with an interest in Egyptian and regional politics. Follow him on Twitter @jgulhane