THE Palestinians of Gaza have spent much of the past ten days
sheltering in basements, and being forced to listen to the sound of
Israeli missiles crashing into buildings, and the whistle of
outgoing rockets. All the while, they have wondered whether
Egyptian-led efforts to broker a deal would succeed before the
Israeli government gave the order for a ground attack, awakening
memories of the war in late 2008 and early 2009.
Exchanges of fire continued into Wednesday, despite indications
from Cairo on Tuesday that Egyptian mediation would bring a
ceasefire. The arrival of the US Secretary of State, Hillary
Clinton, in Israel, on the same day, indicated that more complex
negotiations might be needed.
On Wednesday evening a ceasefire was announced, and appeared to
be holding yesterday. The United Nations Secretary, Ban Ki-Moon,
welcomed the ceasefire, and said that it was urgent that
humanitarian aid be delivered to Gaza. "We are all aware that there
are many details that must be solidified for a broad, durable
ceasefire to take firm hold over the longer term," he said.
"It is imperative that both sides stick to the ceasefire in
order to allow these underlying issues to be addressed."
"It's a critical situation," a spokeswoman for the Anglican Ahli
Arab Hospital in Gaza City said, on Tuesday afternoon. "We hope
they will find a solution. . . It's scary because nobody is safe,
even at home. The bombing is everywhere."
Five Israelis and more than 150 Palestinians have been killed by
Israeli fire. Medical sources in Gaza report that more than half of
them were civilians. Five Israelis have been killed by rockets
launched from Gaza.
The violence has paralysed life within the Palestinian
community. The danger of venturing on to the streets, and the
absence of transport, means that the staff of the Ahli Hospital
have to stay overnight on the premises. Essential supplies are
running low. But the hospital has been designated a second-line
facility, and most of the casualties from the violence are being
treated at government-run hospitals.
The latest serious outbreak of fighting was triggered by the
killing of a Hamas military leader, Ahmed Jabari, on Wednesday of
last week. But, even before then, rockets had been fired into
southern Israel, and several Palestinians had been killed in
Israeli retaliation strikes.
The mutual accusations of blame have a wearily familiar ring.
There has been violence before, followed by a truce, and followed
in turn by more fighting: the foundations of the hostility between
Hamas and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu are deep. Israel
cannot accept a state of affairs where the lives of its civilians
are threatened by Palestinian fire-power. At the same time, Hamas
is committed to ending the isolation that its vastly superior
neighbour (which it refuses to recognise) has imposed.
Once again, it is the use of force on a massive scale by Israel
that is leading to heavy Palestinian loss of life and prompting
much of the international condemnation. The British group
supporting the Jerusalem-based Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation
Theology Center, Friends of Sabeel UK, condemned "the violence
by both sides and the loss of civilian life in Israel and the Gaza
Strip, but we also reject the continuation of Israel's failed
policy of disproportionate violence".
The humanitarian aid charity World Vision said
yesterday that it welcomed the ceasefire, but remained "deeply
concerned about the humanitarian impact of the conflict. World
Vision's director director in Jerusalem, Alex Snary, said: : "We
are concerned and alarmed by the mounting humanitarian crisis in
Gaza and its impact on civilians, especially children. Children
should not have to live under threat of imminent invasion, nor fear
of being struck by rocket fire, nor air raids.
"Children in Gaza are particularly vulnerable due to the area's
high population density along with the reality that the people of
Gaza have nowhere to go to escape violence, due to continued
restrictions on movement and ongoing Israeli blockade. We
hope that this ceasefire agreement will materially improve movement
and access of people and goods in and out of Gaza."
Christian Aid had called for all sides to
exercise restraint. It said that civilians on both sides were
"paying the price for the lack of meaningful engagement to find a
viable peace". On Tuesday, Christian Aid launched a Gaza and Middle
East crisis appeal in order to "help those
most in need, working through partners to provide medical
assistance and other essential services."
Janet Symes, Christian Aid's Head of Middle East, said: "The
people of Gaza are in urgent need of humanitarian support including
medical help. The people worst affected by are the poorest - they
are struggling to afford food, water and fuel. Lifting the blockade
on Gaza is essential and we urge all concerned to ensure this
promise is turned into reality.
"'If the ceasefire holds, it could be the first step to
meaningful negotiations with all parties which have to take place
to bring real change to the people of Gaza."
Want condemned the judgement by the Foreign Secretary, William
Hague, that Hamas bore principal responsibility for the latest Gaza
crisis, saying that it was tantamount to giving a green light to
A spokesman for the charity said that the attacks represented
"the latest stage of a policy of collective punishment and killing
practised by Israel against the people of Gaza", that had been made
possible "only through the continued financial, military, and
diplomatic support its government receives from Western
The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine
also blamed Israel for the violence, saying that the "Israeli
policy of target killings, which started the current episode of
fighting, is morally wrong". The statement said that the situation
"in the Gaza Strip is the result of the impasse in the political
process and the absence of peace. We strongly believe that the
cause of all this is the continuing occupation and blockade, and
restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on the Gaza Strip
and its 1.6 million population."
The Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop for Jerusalem and Palestine,
the Most Revd William Shomali, told the Catholic News Service:
"Courageous decisions need to be taken on the part of Israel, and
also on the part of Hamas not to remain in this circle of
retaliation." The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, meanwhile,
have called for a day of prayer for peace in the Middle East on 4
The Quakers in Britain issued a statement on Tuesday that called for an
immediate end to the use of force by all parties: "We ask that
international law be upheld, and that all those Israelis and
Palestinians who work for peace will be given the opportunity to
move forward together towards a shared peaceful future."
The International Fellowship of Christians and
Jews has assigned an aid package worth £1.7 million to help
families in southern Israel whose lives have been disrupted by
rockets from the Gaza Strip.