On Monday, August 31, the Palestinian resistance group Hamas announced that it had reached a ceasefire with Israel that would end the recent hostilities in Gaza. Since August 6, Israel had been continuously attacking Gaza. It had bombed the region from the air, shelled it with tanks, and attacked Palestinian fishermen off the Gaza coast. Israel claimed the attacks were in response to Hamas and other Palestinian groups firing rockets and incendiary balloons.
The Israeli offensive was taking a heavy toll on people in Gaza. The attacks had deliberately targeted the civilian population. Israel had closed off the fishing zone which was being used by Palestinian fishermen and was a source of food and livelihood. It had also closed the only goods border crossing with Gaza, causing shortages of various essential items like fuel. These fuel deficits starved power plants in Gaza aggravating an already bleak power situation.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar’s office in a statement said, “after a round of talks, mediated by the Qatari representative Mohammed al-Amadi, an understanding has been reached to avoid an escalation and stabilize the situation.” Under the ceasefire deal, both sides have agreed to adhere to several conditions. Israel has committed to immediately opening its border crossing with Gaza to allow the supply of goods including fuel shipments. It will also reopen the fishing zone for Palestinian fishermen and allow them to fish in the waters up to 25 kilometers off the Gaza coast. Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups, on their part, have agreed to halt their military counter-offensive and suspend their night-time operations on the Israel-Gaza border.
Hamas also said that the ceasefire will be followed by the announcement of several projects in the Gaza strip to ease the hardships of the civilian population. The economy in Gaza has been ravaged for long by the air, sea and land blockades by Israel and Egypt. The unemployment rate is extremely high, with some estimates suggesting that more than 50% of the population is unemployed. These projects, if undertaken, will provide much needed employment and economic relief. Previous ceasefire deals, however, had also agreed on similar projects which were subsequently scuttled by Israeli opposition.
Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations’ envoy to Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT), welcomed news of the ceasefire. He tweeted: “ending the launching of incendiary devices and projectiles, restoring electricity will allow #UN to focus on dealing with the #COVID19 crisis.”
The ceasefire deal is also very significant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Gazan authorities discovering the first cases of local transmission of the virus in Gaza’s population. A wider outbreak would spell disaster for the region whose health infrastructure is already reeling under the impact of multiple Israeli invasions and devastating economic blockades.