Israel and Hamas May Reach Cease-Fire Soon, Officials Say – The New York Times

Posted By on May 20, 2021

Heres what you need to know:An Israeli bomb squad inspects a house in Sderot that was damaged by rocket fire from Gaza.Credit...Tsafrir Abayov/Associated Press

Israel and Hamas will likely reach a cease-fire agreement within the next two days, according to a senior Israeli official familiar with the negotiations and two others who corroborated the account.

The cease-fire under discussion would come in stages. The first would include the cessation of all Israeli attacks on Hamas infrastructure and facilities, and an end to Israeli attempts to kill senior Hamas members, the officials said.

Hamas would halt all rocket fire at Israeli cities. Israel is also demanding that Hamas stop digging attack tunnels toward Israel and halt violent demonstrations on the Gaza-Israeli border, said the officials, who asked not to be named because they were discussing negotiations still underway.

The agreement also aims to include later stages, after a cease-fire takes effect, including returning the bodies of two soldiers held by Hamas and two Israeli civilians detained by the group. In return, the officials said, Israel would allow the passage of goods and funds into Gaza.

Officially, Israel has denied the existence of negotiations or the imminent signing of a deal, but that may be a tactic designed to put pressure on Hamas by showing that Israel does not fear further escalation.

The senior Israeli representative in the negotiations is the national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, who is considered very close to Prime Minister Netanyahu and was recently dispatched to Washington to try to convince the Biden administration not to sign a new nuclear agreement with Iran.

The two senior Hamas figures running the negotiations have close ties to Egyptian intelligence. The current commander of Hamas military forces, Marwan Issa, spent a lot of time at the Egyptian intelligence headquarters in Cairo during 2011, when the Egyptians worked one of the most difficult issues between Israel and Hamas: the abduction of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

But delays in reaching a possible cease-fire have taken place because the Egyptians, who are helping coordinate the negotiations, have had trouble contacting senior Hamas officials. The officials have feared Israeli attempts to kill them, leading them to hide, often underground, while trying to avoid the use of any electronic devices.

President Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the White House principal deputy press secretary told reporters onboard Air Force One.

Our focus has not changed, the press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said. We are working towards a de-escalation.

Ms. Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden wanted the situation to reach a sustainable calm.

She said the call, which came before the president departed from Washington to address graduates at the United States Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday morning, did not reflect a shift in administration policy as it pertains to a cease-fire.

This is what we have been calling for for the past eight days, she said.

Mr. Netanyahu did not give any assurance during the call that Mr. Biden could expect a cease-fire, according to a senior administration official who received a readout of the call shortly after it happened.

After visiting Israeli military headquarters, Mr. Netanyahu said he was determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.

Still, the presidents call to the Israeli leader added to a growing chorus of international parties urging the Israeli military and Hamas militants to lay down their weapons as the conflict stretched into its 10th day.

France is leading efforts to call for a cease-fire at the United Nations Security Council, but it remains unclear when a resolution would be put to a vote. The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said he hoped to fly to Israel on Thursday for talks with Israelis and Palestinians.

Taken together, the developments represented a more determined Western effort to halt the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, the impoverished coastal territory of two million Palestinians ruled by Hamas since 2007. It has been a chronic flash point in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel and Hamas have signaled a willingness to reach a cease-fire, diplomats privy to the discussions say, but that has not reduced the intensity of the deadliest fighting in Gaza since 2014.

At least 227 people in Gaza have been killed, including 64 children, and 1,620 have been wounded as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israeli airstrikes and shelling have destroyed or damaged homes, roads and medical facilities across the territory.

Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into Israeli towns on Wednesday, sending people scurrying for shelter. More than 4,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza since the conflict began, according to the Israeli military, killing at least 12 Israeli residents.

Mousa Abu Marzouq, a senior official of Hamas, told an Arabic television channel that he expected cease-fire talks to succeed in the next one or two days. Israeli media has reported that Israeli officials do not expect the bombing to stop until Friday at the earliest.

With Israeli warplanes firing into the crowded Gaza Strip, in a campaign that Israeli officials say is aimed at Hamas militants and their infrastructure, the humanitarian crisis has deepened for people inside Gaza.

The United Nations said that more than 58,000 Palestinians in Gaza had been displaced from their homes, many huddling in U.N.-run schools that have in effect become bomb shelters. Israeli strikes have damaged schools, power lines, and water, sanitation and sewage systems for hundreds of thousands of people in a territory that has been under blockade by Israel and Egypt for more than a decade. Covid-19 vaccinations have stopped, and on Tuesday an Israeli strike knocked out the only lab in the territory that processes coronavirus tests.

There is no safe place in Gaza, where two million people have been forcibly isolated from the rest of the world for over 13 years, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator in the territory, Mark Lowcock, said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel met on Thursday with his security cabinet, as senior officials of Israel and Hamas privately expressed optimism that a cease-fire agreement could come by the weekend, after Israeli bombardment of Gaza and rocket fire by Hamas eased.

As the humanitarian situation for the two million people living in the Gaza Strip has grown more dire by the day, international pressure has mounted to find a way to end a cycle of violence in which civilians are bearing a heavy cost.

President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday, telling the Israeli leader that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire, administration officials said.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden spoke with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, whose nation has acted as an intermediary in the negotiations as neither the United States nor Israel deal directly with Hamas.

And at a special meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary General Antnio Guterres called for a halt to the bloodshed and destruction. The fighting must stop immediately, he said. I appeal to all parties to cease hostilities, now and I reiterate my call on all sides for an immediate cease-fire.



The past 10 days have witnessed a dangerous and horrific surge in deadly violence in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly Gaza, and in Israel. I am deeply shocked by the continued air and artillery bombardment by the Israeli Defense forces in Gaza. As of 19 May, these have claimed the lives of at least 208 Palestinians, including 60 children, and injured thousands more. The fighting must stop immediately. I appeal to all parties to cease hostilities now, and I reiterate my call on all sides for an immediate cease-fire. The hostilities have caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including roads and electricity lines contributing to a humanitarian emergency.

Germanys foreign minister, Heiko Maas, met with Mr. Netanyahu on Thursday and also pressed for peace.

Since the start of the conflict 11 days ago, Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 200 Palestinians, including over 60 children, according to the Gaza health ministry. The Israeli military said that more than 130 of those killed were combatants. Hamas rocket attacks have killed more than a dozen people in Israel, including two children, according to the Israeli authorities.

Hamas has launched more than 4,000 rockets at southern Israel the vast majority shot down by Israeli defenses, falling short of their targets or landing in unpopulated areas. That steady onslaught appeared to slow overnight, with Israeli military officials recording 70 rockets between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Israel has targeted around 1,000 sites in Gaza that it claims hold significant military value, according to Israeli military officials. However, the campaign has also caused widespread destruction of homes and critical infrastructure, displacing tens of thousands from their homes and causing dire shortages of water and medical supplies.

While the pace of the air assault eased overnight, Israeli warplanes launched several airstrikes before dawn, sending fiery explosions and huge plumes of smoke into the night.

The continued fighting highlighted how fraught the final hours before any cease-fire deal can be with the risk of miscalculations high and last-minute attempts to strike a blow derailing diplomatic efforts.

GAZA CITY Riad Ishkontana had promised his children that their building on Al Wahida Street was safe, though for Zein, his 2-year-old son, the thunder of the airstrikes spoke louder than his reassurances.

The Israelis had never bombed the neighborhood before, he told them. Theirs was a comfortable, tranquil area by Gaza City standards, full of professionals and shops, nothing military. The explosions were still far away. To soothe them all, he started calling home the house of safety.

Mr. Ishkontana, 42, tried to believe it, too, though around them the death toll was climbing not by inches, but by leaps, by housefuls, by families.

He was still telling the children about their house of safety all the way up until after midnight early Sunday morning, when he and his wife were watching more plumes of gray smoke rising from Gaza on television. She went to put the five children to bed. For all his attempts at comforting them, the family felt more secure sleeping all together in the boys room in the middle of the third-floor apartment.

Then a flash of bright light, and the building swayed. He said he rushed toward the boys room. Boom. The last thing he saw before the floor gave way beneath him and the walls fell on him, then a concrete pillar, then the roof, was his wife pulling at the mattress where she had already tucked in three of their children, trying to drag it out.

My kids! she was screaming, but the doorway was too narrow. My kids!

As Israel has focused its firepower on Hamass warren of underground tunnels and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, it has simultaneously been engaged in a parallel clandestine strategy: a targeted killing campaign against Hamass military leadership.

Israel has tried several times in the current fighting to kill Mohammed Deif, the commander of Hamass military wing, a spokesman for Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday. Mr. Deif, a shadowy figure who has been atop Israels most-wanted list for nearly three decades, has become a symbol of the militant groups resilience.

Throughout the operation, we have tried to assassinate Mohammed Deif, said the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman.

Israeli commandos have come close a few times over the years, and Mr. Deif has been wounded, but he has always survived.

A senior Israeli army officer said that Mr. Deif, 55, had played a pivotal role in the latest conflict, including ordering the firing of 130 rockets at Tel Aviv last Wednesday, one of the harshest attacks on Israels commercial capital since the fighting began.

Mr. Deif, revered among many Palestinians for his strategic prowess and ability to evade Israeli efforts to kill him, has spent decades underground. He has survived at least eight attempts on his life, including by ambush, bombings of safe houses where he was staying and missiles fired at his car, Israeli intelligence officials said. The officials, like others quoted in this article, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details of an active mission.

During those attempts, he has lost an eye and a hand, sustained neurological damage from shrapnel, suffered hearing damage and was left with a limp, according to a current and a former Israeli intelligence official.

A senior Israeli intelligence official said that since the last Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2014, Israel had several opportunities to kill him but had refrained from doing so for fear of setting off a war.

Even before Israel was founded as an independent state in 1948, those fighting for its creation had long engaged in targeted killings. But the program has raised moral quandaries internally and internationally about the ethics of such actions.

In August 2014, Israeli warplanes dropped at least five bombs on a house in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in Gaza where Israel believed Mr. Deif was staying. The house was reduced to rubble, and one of his wives, Widad, 28, and their infant son, Ali, were killed, along with another resident and her two teenage sons.

Israel thought that the strike had killed him. Although he survived and subsequently fell into depression, according to the intelligence official the attack fanned rumors of a security leak among Hamass leadership.

Security experts believe that Mr. Deif avoids detection by eschewing digital devices, using notes and couriers, and limiting his contacts to a tight, secret inner circle.

The commander, born in the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza, rose quickly through the ranks after joining the Islamist organization that became Hamas in the late 1980s. He has orchestrated numerous attacks against Israel, including a series of deadly bus bombings that derailed the peace process in the mid-1990s.

He is also credited with building Hamass military wing, the Qassam Brigades, into a fighting machine that can lob rockets against Israel, deploy commandos for naval missions and outmaneuver Israel in the warren of Gazas underground tunnels.

Most of the bombing and rocket fire have taken place at night, but violence between Israel and Palestinians continued to flare through the day on Wednesday, despite negotiations for a cease-fire.

In Deir al-Balah, a city in central Gaza, an Israeli airstrike on a residential building on Wednesday evening killed a married couple and their 2-year-old daughter, and wounded others, according to Palestinian health authorities. They said the woman was pregnant and her husband had a disability.

Near the West Bank city of Hebron, Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian woman who had opened fire with an automatic rifle near the entrance to a Jewish settlement, according to the Israeli military. No one else was injured.

Four rockets were fired into northern Israel from Lebanon, and the Israeli military returned fire with artillery, but there were no reported casualties. It was the third such small-scale attack from Lebanese territory since the conflict in Gaza began. It was not clear who was responsible, but Hezbollah has said it did not fire the rockets.

Since May 10, the bombardment in Gaza has killed 227 people, including 64 children, and injured 1,620 people, in addition to leaving thousands homeless, Palestinian authorities said. In addition, they said Israelis had killed 27 Palestinians on the West Bank in unrest that began on May 7.

In Israel, 12 people have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza.

Rocks thrown at doors of a synagogue in Bonn, Germany. Israeli flags burned outside a synagogue in Mnster. A convoy of cars in North London from which a man chanted anti-Jewish slurs.

As the conflict in Israel and Gaza extended into a 10th day on Wednesday, recent episodes like these are fanning concerns among Jewish groups and European leaders that the latest strife in the Middle East is spilling over into anti-Semitic words and actions in Europe.

Thousands of demonstrators have gathered on the streets of Paris, Berlin, Vienna and other European cities in mostly peaceful protests over the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which has killed at least 212 Palestinians, including 61 children.

Pro-Palestinian activists and organizers say that solidarity with Palestinians should not be confused with anti-Semitism, and they denounce what they say are attempts to use accusations of anti-Semitism to try to shield Israel from criticism. They say they aim to hold Israel accountable for what they characterize as atrocities against Palestinians.

But Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, warned on Tuesday against geopolitical events 3,000 miles away being used as a pretext to attack Jews.

By attacking Jewish targets, they demonstrate they dont hate Jews because of Israel, he said, but rather hate Israel because it is the Jewish homeland.

In Germany, where historical memory runs especially deep because of the Holocaust, pro-Palestinian rallies have been held in cities across the west of the country and in the capital, Berlin. Several have descended into violence, including anti-Semitic chants, calls for violence against Israel, desecration of memorials to Holocaust victims and attacks on at least two synagogues.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany tweeted a video last Thursday showing protesters in Gelsenkirchen, in western Germany, waving Palestinian and Turkish flags and shouting anti-Jewish slurs. The times in which Jews were cursed in the middle of the street should have long been over, the group wrote. This is pure anti-Semitism, nothing else!

The United States on Tuesday criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey over remarks he made about Israel at a news conference this week. They are murderers, to the point that they kill children who are 5 or 6 years old, he said, and are only are satisfied by sucking blood.

Fears that the latest Middle East conflict will aggravate anti-Semitism have also been pronounced in France, which has Europes largest Jewish and Muslim populations, and where the situation in the Middle East has previously boiled over into violence on the countrys streets.

In 2014, during Israels invasion of Gaza, protesters in Paris and its suburbs targeted synagogues and Jewish shops, lit smoke bombs, and threw stones and bottles at riot police officers. Some chanted Death to Jews.

In London over the weekend, thousands of mostly peaceful demonstrators marched from Hyde Park to the Israeli Embassy in West London. But in an area of North London with a large Jewish population, members of a convoy of cars honked horns and shouted anti-Jewish sentiments. One man chanted that Jewish daughters should be raped. Londons Metropolitan Police said in a statement that four men had been arrested.

Owen Jones, a prominent British columnist who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights, warned against conflating Israels actions with Jews as a whole.

If youre holding British Jews responsible for the crimes committed by the Israeli state, and trying to terrorize Jews because of what is happening in Palestine, he wrote on Twitter, youre not a Palestinian solidarity activist, youre a nauseating anti-Semite who needs to be comprehensively defeated.

Foreign workers have long faced precarious living conditions in Israel, especially during military conflict. And on Tuesday, a Hamas rocket attack killed two Thai workers and wounded at least seven others in a packaging house in southern Israel, Thai and Israeli officials said.

Businesses near the border with Gaza are allowed to operate if they have access to a bomb shelter or a safety room, but a local official said the agricultural community where the Thai workers died did not have such a space.

That is often the case with such setups, an expert on foreign labor in Israel said.

Thai workers come to Israel on temporary programs and live in caravans and containers that are often overcrowded and in poor sanitary conditions, said Yahel Kurlander, a researcher at Tel-Hai College who specializes in Thai workers in Israel.

These housings dont have the safety rooms required by law or outlined in the contracts of these workers, who dont have anywhere to hide, she added.

Thais make up most of Israels agriculture work force, and tens of thousands live in the country as part of an agreement between the two nations. Investigations by news outlets and rights groups have highlighted their squalid living conditions, low pay and dangerous working situations including the spraying of chemicals.

The two workers killed on Tuesday were part of a group of 25 foreigners working at the plant and living in caravans nearby, according to Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster.

Thai workers usually do not speak Hebrew and English, Dr. Kurlander said, and are among the most vulnerable populations in Israel.

The workers deaths came a week after a Hamas strike killed an Indian woman who worked as a caregiver in Ashkelon. Previous Hamas rocket attacks killed a Thai agricultural worker in Israel in 2014 and injured another in 2018.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a briefing on Wednesday that the recent deaths of the foreign workers were one more manifestation of the fact that Hamas indiscriminately targets everyone.

Israel has likewise been criticized for the killing of civilians in Gaza in military airstrikes. Those strikes in the past 10 days have killed over 200 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,500 others.

An Israeli airstrike killed a Palestinian reporter working in Gaza overnight Tuesday, the first journalist to be killed in the latest Israeli bombardment of the territory.

Throughout the 10-day conflict, journalists working in Gaza have faced increasingly perilous conditions and the Israeli government has faced international criticism for endangering their safety.

After an Israeli airstrike destroyed a 12-story building that housed the offices of news organizations including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera on Saturday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the United States had raised the issue with the Israeli government.

We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility, Ms. Psaki wrote.

Although the building was evacuated, the A.P. said that it had narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life.

The journalist killed overnight Tuesday, Yusef Abu Hussein, was a Gaza City resident who worked as a radio journalist at the Hamas-run Aqsa Voice station. The assault also killed three other Palestinians, according to the local news media.

On Monday, Israeli warplanes bombed a building that housed the offices of Nawa Online Women Media Network, a news platform affiliated with a womens rights and youth organization, according to a Facebook post from the outlet.

In less than a week, Israel has bombed the offices of at least 18 media outlets, Ignacio Miguel Delgado, the Middle East and North Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement on Tuesday. Its difficult to reach any conclusion other than that the Israeli military wants to shut down news coverage of the suffering in Gaza.

On Tuesday, Israeli forces assaulted a Palestinian reporter while she was filming an arrest in East Jerusalem, according to her employer, the website Middle East Eye.

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Israel and Hamas May Reach Cease-Fire Soon, Officials Say - The New York Times

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