A new 72-hour truce between Israel and the ruling Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip is holding, clearing the way for negotiations aimed at ending a month of hostilities.
Palestinians fired rocket barrages at Israel right before the cease-fire went into effect at midnight. But then the guns fell silent.
The truce cleared the way for an Israeli delegation to return to Cairo for indirect talks with Hamas on a long-term cease-fire. The negotiations, which are mediated by Egypt, broke down last week after a previous 72-hour truce expired with a new round of fighting.
Both sides remain entrenched in their positions and the gaps are wide: Israel wants the demilitarization of Gaza while Hamas is insisting that Israel and Egypt lift a crippling blockade on the territory.
While Israel is willing to ease the blockade, it will not allow the free flow of goods that Hamas could use for military purposes.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Tzipi Livni said any import of cement to rebuild Gaza must be under international supervision to prevent Hamas from rebuilding a network of tunnels that can be used for terrorist infiltrations into Israel. She said money and material entering Gaza must benefit the Palestinian people and not Hamas.
Livni told Israel Radio that Hamas must lose this war, and it will not be allowed to turn terrorist aggression into a victory.
Hamas, on the other hand, needs an achievement to show its people for all the death and destruction wreaked on Gaza. And lifting the blockade would provide just that.
Hamas says the seven-year “siege” is illegal and immoral and there will be no agreement unless it is removed.
Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk said it is impossible to return to the situation before the conflict, in which Gaza was a big, open-air prison.
One emerging compromise is that the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, will supervise the Gaza border crossings along with European officials.
Despite the obstacles in negotiations, the lull in fighting is providing battered Gaza with some desperately-needed humanitarian relief. Hundreds of trucks have crossed the border from Israel carrying food, water, medicine and supplies.
UN Starts Food Deliveries
The United Nations World Food Program is bringing food to the 730,000 people in Gaza who are not already receiving help from other programs.
The WFP took advantage of the 72-hour cease-fire that started on Sunday to begin deliveries of one-time food parcels with 10 kg of rice and 30 kg of wheat flour to 143,000 families on Monday.
According to the U.N. agency, security permitting, the distribution will be complete within two weeks.
The WFP says the food drop is part of its effort to reach all conflict-affected people in Gaza with some form of food assistance.