Egyptian Mediators Try to Build on Ceasefire

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
Rockets fired by Hamas terrorists in Gaza into Israel, seen over Kiryat Gat on May 18. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Egyptian mediators sought to reinforce a day-old ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian terrorists, and aid officials appealed for a period of calm to start tackling a humanitarian crisis in Gaza after 11 days of fighting.

The ceasefire, which began before dawn on Friday, was still holding on Motzoei Shabbos, enabling officials to start assessing the scale of the damage.

Despite confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian rioters at Har HaBayis on Friday, there were no reports of Hamas rocket launches from Gaza or Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave.

Rockets fired by Hamas and other Islamist terror groups paralyzed towns in southern Israel during the hostilities, and caused widespread panic.

“Everybody just needs to stand down and not to engage in any provocative moves,” Lynn Hastings, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said.

Economists said Israel‘s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic could be curbed by the hostilities and medics said rocket attacks had killed 13 people in Israel before the ceasefire.

After mediating the ceasefire with U.S. support, Egypt sent a delegation to Israel on Friday to discuss ways of firming up the truce, including with aid for Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas officials told Reuters.

The delegates have since been shuttling between Israel and Gaza, and on Saturday met Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in the city of Ramallah, an aide to the Palestinian leader said.

A source familiar with planning said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken would visit Israel and the West Bank on Wednesday and Thursday, hoping to build on the ceasefire. Mahmoud, however, has little influence in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Washington would work with the United Nations on bringing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Gaza, with safeguards against funds being used to arm Hamas, which the West deems a terrorist group.

The United Nations Security Council on Saturday called for “the full adherence” to the ceasefire and stressed the immediate need for humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians.

The 15-member council issued a statement, which had to be agreed by consensus, after being unable to speak during the 11-day conflict due to opposition by the United States.

Israel‘s Foreign Ministry said in response it was “very unfortunate” that the Security Council “ignored the launching of over 4,000 rockets at Israeli civilians from populated areas in Gaza.”

Seeking to build on the truce, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, on Saturday urged Israel and the Palestinians to return to meaningful negotiations towards a two-state solution, which have been deadlocked for years.

“The EU cannot be expected to finance yet again the rebuilding of Gaza without a meaningful prospect of actually solving the underlying conflict,” Borrell wrote in a social media post.