Palestinians inspect the damage to the Italian Complex following several late night Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Aug. 26, 2014. Israel bombed two Gaza City high-rises with dozens of homes and shops Tuesday, collapsing the 15-story Basha Tower and severely damaging the Italian Complex in a further escalation in seven weeks of cross-border fighting with Hamas. (Khalil Hamra / AP)
Gaza City, Gaza Strip — Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas agreed Tuesday to an open-ended cease-fire after seven weeks of fighting — an uneasy deal that halts the deadliest war the sides have fought in years, with more than 2,200 killed, but puts off the most difficult issues.
In the end, both sides settled for an ambiguous interim agreement in exchange for a period of calm. Hamas, though badly battered, remains in control of Gaza with part of its military arsenal intact. Israel and Egypt will continue to control access to blockaded Gaza, despite Hamas’ long-running demand that the border closures imposed in 2007 be lifted.
Hamas declared victory, even though it had little to show for a war that killed 2,143 Palestinians, wounded more than 11,000 and left some 100,000 homeless. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and five civilians were killed, the last a man killed by Palestinian mortar fire shortly before the cease-fire was announced.
Large crowds gathered in Gaza City after the truce took effect at dusk, some waving the green flags of Hamas, while celebratory gunfire and fireworks erupted across the territory.
Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, promised to rebuild homes destroyed in the war and said Hamas would rearm. “We will build and upgrade our arsenal to be ready for the coming battle, the battle of full liberation,” he declared, surrounded by Hamas gunmen.
The Israeli response was more subdued.
“This time we hope the cease-fire will stick,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. He portrayed the deal as one Hamas had rejected in previous rounds of negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced some criticism from hard-line critics and residents of Israeli communities near Gaza who said the deal failed to defuse the threat from Gaza militants. Since July 8, Hamas and its allies have fired some 4,000 rockets and mortars at Israel, and tens of thousands of Israelis evacuated areas near Gaza in recent weeks.
Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel is to ease imports to Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction. It also agreed to a largely symbolic gesture, expanding a fishing zone for Gaza fishermen from three to six nautical miles into the Mediterranean.
In a month, talks are to begin on more complex issues, including Hamas’ demand to start building a seaport and airport in Gaza. Israel has said it would only agree if Hamas disarms, a demand the militant group has rejected.
The cease-fire went into effect at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and violence persisted until the last minute.
In a televised address Tuesday evening, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the end of the war underscored the need to find a permanent solution to the conflict with Israel.
“What’s next? Gaza has been subjected to three wars. Shall we expect another war in a year or two? Until when will this issue be without a solution?” he said.