Cease-fire holds in Gaza despite latest flareup
By the CNN Wire Staff
GAZA CITY (CNN) – A fragile truce between Israel and Hamas appeared to hold Friday despite reports that Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian man near its border in Gaza.
The soldiers opened fire when farmers were trying to reach their land near Israeli-Gaza border, Hamas officials said. But the Israel Defense Forces said the people were rioters who attempted to breach a fence dividing Israel and Gaza.
It was the first report of a fatality since Hamas and Israel agreed to a cease-fire, forged by high-powered international diplomacy after eight days of round-the-clock warfare.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy and his government spearheaded the truce. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also used their influence to stop the fighting. U.S. President Barack Obama dialed up the main players to help seal the cease-fire deal.
It’s too soon to tell whether the latest flareup will unravel the ice-cold breather between Israel and Hamas.
Twenty-one-year-old Anwar Qandeeh died in the confrontation Friday morning, said Hamas Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra. Nineteen others were wounded and were taken to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, al-Qidra said.
The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately confirm a casualty, telling CNN it was looking into the report.
The IDF said a group of about 300 Palestinians attempted to enter Israel at several locations along the Gaza border. The IDF maintains its soldiers acted according to the rules of engagement to distance rioters from the fence that separates Israel and Gaza.
Fighting also was recorded Thursday, a day after the cease-fire was declared. Six Palestinians were injured when they got near the border fence in the same area where the Friday violence occurred, al-Qidra said. The IDF said three rockets had been launched from Gaza into Israel. Two of the three landed in open areas, and Israel’s defense system intercepted the third.
The next stage of the cease-fire agreement would be to consider opening the border crossings to facilitate movements of people and goods.
Hamas representatives told CNN Friday they are going to have meetings with Egyptian intelligence to discuss the opening of border crossings and the easing of Israel’s stiff economic blockade in Gaza — strictures Israel says it put in place to keep Iranian weapons out of the hands of Gaza militants.
It remains unclear if the latest events will lead to a resumption of long-stalled negotiations on a broader peace agreement or serve simply as a respite, as has occurred in the past.
The escalation in violence between Hamas, the Palestinian movement that controls Gaza, and Israel began when the Israeli military launched an offensive designed to stop constant rocket fire fired from Gaza into Israel.
Israel launched the Pillar of Defense offensive, an air operation targeting Hamas military commanders and weaponry. As the Israeli military pounded Gaza, Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets into Israel, battering the southern region and reaching Israel’s two major cities — Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system blocked projectiles targeting population centers, but civilians in the Jewish state and the densely populated Gaza lived in fear of attack.
Israel called up reservists and massed its forces on the Gaza border, threatening a ground invasion. But the cease-fire averted a repeat of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead offensive against Palestinian militants in late 2008, an operation that led to a bloody three-week war.
The recent fighting took its toll: More than 160 Palestinians, many of whom were civilians, were killed. Six Israelis died, including civilians and soldiers. Hundreds were wounded.
The confrontations have died down and people in Gaza and portions of southern Israel are trying to return to a semblance of normalcy.
North of Gaza City, Shadia Abu Khusa surveyed the damage to his family home. The roof was gone, blown off in an airstrike. The facade was cracked.
The family is searching for a place to rent while they repair the damage.
In the meantime, they said, they hope the peace will hold.
“God willing, it will last 100 years, 200 years, for the sake of our children,” Abu Khusa said.
A man who identified himself as Salah and his family hope for the same thing.
When the bombs began falling in Gaza, Salah took his family and fled their home for what he hoped were safer environs.
Now, with the cease-fire taking hold, he packed his car to begin the journey back to Gaza City.
“We hope this is the beginning of a better time,” Salah said. “Not a time of war.”
Salah’s comments followed a day of pronouncements Thursday by the Israeli and Hamas governments, with each side claiming the advantage in the cease-fire.
As Palestinian fishermen returned to the sea and shopkeepers reopened their shuttered businesses, on the other side of the border Israel began withdrawing troops it had deployed in case of a possible ground invasion.
Near Sderot, an Israeli city near the Gaza border, flatbed trucks were loaded with tanks and armored personnel carriers.
It was not a comforting sign for residents who have lived under the constant fear of militant rocket attacks from Gaza, which were routinely fired at the region long before Israel launched a military campaign in an effort to stop the attacks.
Schools remain closed in portions of southern Israel as a matter of precaution.
“The result is not very desirable, and it’s not a cease-fire,” one resident told a reporter on Thursday.
The resident, who was not identified, said “shell fire” could be heard in the distance.
“I don’t like this result, and I believe the fight will break out again in one or two months.”
Another resident said he was disappointed and angry with the outcome of the Israeli military campaign.
“We should launch ground attacks in Gaza to solve the problem in one stroke. No matter how long it takes. We are actually ready in both troops and morale, but now all the hopes come to nothing,” the resident said.
CNN’s Ben Wedeman, Chelsea J. Carter, Jill Dougherty, Sara Sidner, Frederik Pleitgen, Kareem Khadder, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.