A ceasefire in the Gaza Strip was holding on Monday for a second day, despite continued violence in the occupied West Bank where two Palestinians were killed during an Israeli military operation.
Agreed in a late Saturday phone conversation between the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian president, the truce saw the majority of Israeli troops leave Gaza on Sunday.
A salvo of rockets did explode in Israel shortly after the ceasefire began, but Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert ordered ‘restraint’ as Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, head of the Hamas-led government, issued statements condemning the attack but adding it was an isolated incident.
Abbas has deployed hundreds of his security forces in northern Gaza to guard against rocket attacks, but it remained unclear if or how they could prevent militants determined to strike.
Despite the tenuous calm, a militant from the Popular Resistance Committees and a 50-year-old woman were killed during an Israeli operation in the occupied West Bank provoking the armed faction in the Gaza Strip to vow revenge.
Abdel Razek Nasser, 25, a local head of the Resistance Committees, died in an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers in Kabatiyeh.
The woman was killed as she rushed to help, Palestinian medical and security officials said.
An Israeli army spokesman said troops operating in Kabatiyeh fired on one armed Palestinian and a silhouette of someone else running away who, he claimed, recovered the dead man’s weapon but who later ‘turned out to be a woman’.
Despite the West Bank deaths, Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz said the army had exercised restraint ‘so as not to give the most extremist terrorist elements the chance to lead the entire region in a new escalation of violence’.
Peretz added: ‘We demand however that Abu Mazen (Abbas) and the Hamas government act on the ground to respect the ceasefire.’
The Israeli minister also said the ceasefire ‘could create favourable conditions for the release of Gilad Shalit as well as the conclusion of much more stable arrangements allowing dialogue and the start of mutual recognition’.
Israeli soldier Shalit was captured in late June in a cross-border raid conducted by three armed groups, including Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees, sparking five months of bloody Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip, in which around 400 Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers were killed.
Palestinian and Israeli officials have said they would like to extend the ceasefire to the West Bank, but for the moment the lull applies only to Gaza.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: ‘We want to extend the calm to the West Bank but the situation is more complicated than in the Gaza Strip. We are working on it and hope to make progress in coming days.’
After talks in Gaza City late on Sunday, Palestinian factions announced that they were now looking into ‘a lasting calm’ with Israel.
‘We agreed to stay in contact and put in place plans and programmes which guarantee a general, mutual and lasting period of calm,’ said Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, who heads an umbrella group of faction representatives.
Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya added on Sunday: ‘We call on all to respect and help prevent any violations of this agreement which all the factions and forces have agreed to.’
Fatah’s Tawfiq Abu-Khusah said that the meeting between the Palestinian factions and Prime Minister Ismail Haniya last Sunday night resulted in a decision to form a committee to prepare a document stipulating a comprehensive, mutual and simultaneous truce.
The finished document is to be submitted to the National and Islamic Forces Higher Follow-up Committee this week for approval.
Abu-Khusah noted that the formation of the said committee is based upon the premise that the truce should encompass all Palestinian territories in the light of the fact that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are a single political entity, and therefore all forms of hostility against the Palestinian people should be halted.
Abu-Khusah said that the meeting with the prime minister on Sunday was intended to gauge the level of commitment to the truce, adding that the actions of some groups last night and today were unintentional.
The conferees also stressed that the deployment of Palestinian forces was a matter of national consensus.
Meanwhile, asked about the Islamic Jihad movement’s commitment to the ceasefire agreement, secretary-general Ramadan Abdallah Shallah said: ‘In the past, we were part of the agreements, particularly the Cairo agreement, but the Israeli enemy used to deal with the Islamic Jihad movement as being outside the calm agreement and insisted on targeting it.
‘Based on the facts surrounding this past experience regarding the enemy’s dealing with all the calm agreements, we expressed reservations today about this calm in this formula, especially since it is a partial one and includes the Gaza Strip only.
‘We said the calm should be comprehensive, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
‘However, talking about the Gaza Strip and giving a free hand to the occupation in the West Bank, through invasions, arrests and assassinations – this is a position, from the viewpoint of the Islamic Jihad, and it is not in the interests of the Palestinian people.
‘The Palestinian people are one people, the calm is one, and the calm in this formula implies a serious political dimension.
‘It consolidates separation between the West Bank and Gaza and perhaps lays the foundations for the temporary state of Gaza, which the occupation state and its allies want.
‘Therefore, we say that although we are very concerned about alleviating the suffering of our people and sparing their blood, this position, in this formula, does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people.’
Shallah added: ‘We do not have good intentions towards this Israeli enemy, based on our bitter and bloody experience with it.
‘Our position is based on three main points: the first is that we proceed from the unity of the Palestinian people and the integrity of the Palestinian territory.
‘Our people are one and our land is one: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and all Palestine.
‘The second point is that we are committed to replying to the attacks and crimes of the occupation against our people anywhere in Palestine.
‘Third, we will comply with the calm if the enemy complies with the comprehensive halt of all forms of its aggression against the Palestinian people anywhere in Palestine.
‘This is the calm we understand.’
The Palestinian commander-in-chief of the Fatah-led Palestinian security forces revealed to Ma’an News Agency on Sunday that almost 13,000 men are to be deployed along the confrontation lines, starting at 1330 that day.
This deployment would start from the Kerem Shalom area up to the Sudaniyah area in the north of the Strip.
General Jamal Kayid told Ma’an that the deployment would be in accordance with the president’s orders, and the general leader of the Palestinian national forces, General Suleiman Hillis, in order to implement the ceasefire agreement.
The general clarified that a meeting for all bodies of the security forces, including the Force 17, the military police, and others, had been held, and that a case of higher alert was announced within these bodies.
General Kayid confirmed that the security forces deployed will be operating under three leaders, and that these forces will exchange positions with Israelis who were holding key locations, before the truce was announced.
He also stressed that the forces will prevent the projectile launching at Israeli towns and outposts.
He said: ‘Any one who attempts to launch projectiles or infiltrate Israel will be arrested.
‘These people will be looked at as standing against the Palestinian national unity. Even as Palestinian nationals, they will be prevented in any way, even by force.’