Egyptian-brokered cease-fire goes into effect, bringing to a halt 51 days of death and destruction in the blockaded coastal enclave.
The European Union has welcomed the latest cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, bringing to an end 51 days of fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces that have led to catastrophic death and destruction in the blockaded coastal enclave.
A statement from the European External Action Service “warmly” welcomed the Egypt-brokered agreement which went into effect at 16:00 GMT Tuesday and called “on all to abide by its terms.”
“We commend the efforts of Egypt and others in working towards the cease-fire, and express our sorrow for the loss of life, especially civilians and destruction caused in the last 50 days,” the office said on its official Twitter account, adding that the EU is ready to contribute to consolidating the truce.
For the past seven weeks, Israel has pounded Gaza with the declared aim of halting rocket fire from the territory, claiming at least 2,139 Palestinian — mostly civilian — lives, and leaving nearly 11,000 people injured. Thousands of homes have also been partially or completely destroyed by devastating Israeli bombardments.
At least 69 Israelis — 64 soldiers and five civilians — have also died in the conflict, according to Israeli figures.
Laurent Fabius, the French minister of foreign affairs and international development, also welcomed the cease-fire in an earlier statement saying that France, in coordination with its European partners and as a member of the United Nations Security Council “is committed to contribute to finding solutions through such an agreement.”
It was unclear as to whether by “solutions” Fabius meant an answer to the Palestinian situation, which has seen Palestinian refugees spread all over the world — many confined to refugee camps — since they were expelled by Jewish settlers from their homelands in 1948, or a solution to the latest conflict in Gaza.
“France urges all parties to respect and to continue discussions under the auspices of Egypt to achieve a sustainable solution that answers the requirements of lifting the blockade on Gaza and guaranteeing Israel’s security,” read the statement.
The cease-fire was also backed by Italy, which expressed hope that it would serve as a”turning point we have been waiting for and toward which we have been working with many other countries.”
“The Israelis and Palestinians now need to launch negotiations as soon as possible for a lasting truce and political agreement that finally lead to a stable settlement,” Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said in a written statement.
Britain also welcomed the truce, Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood hailing Egypt’s efforts in securing “this important step.”
“I welcome today’s agreement by all parties to a cease-fire. The cease-fire provides a critical and welcome window of opportunity for reaching a comprehensive agreement that tackles the underlying causes of the conflict,” Ellwood said Tuesday.
“This should ensure that: Hamas and other militant groups permanently end rocket fire and other attacks against Israel; the Palestinian Authority resumes control of Gaza and restores effective and accountable governance; and that Israel lifts its restrictions in order to ease the suffering of ordinary Palestinians, and allow the Gazan economy to grow,” added Ellwood.
There was no mention of an answer to what many Palestinians call “underlying causes” — the continued misappropriation of lands by Israel, the diaspora of the Palestinian people and control of their livelihoods and borders.
The Palestinian situation began in 1917 when the British Balfour declaration promised a national home for Jewish people in Palestine. By 1948 a newly formed state inside of the Palestine boundary named “Israel” had declared independence, which resulted in 700,000 Palestinians fleeing or being expelled and hundreds of their villages and towns destroyed.
The Palestinian diaspora has since become one of the largest in the world, refugees spread across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other countries, while many were settled in refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestinians commemorate “nakba” — “the day of catastrophe” — on May 15 in memory of the expulsion.
Since 1948, Israel has continued to misappropriate Palestinian land, despite being condemned by the United Nations. The right of return to pre-1948 homes is still a demand for many Palestinians, in particular Hamas, which formed a national unity government with Fatah this year after nearly seven years of feuding.
The number of Palestinian fatalities from Israel’s latest offensive has surpassed the combined death toll from Israel’s two previous operations against Gaza, including Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008/09 in which at least 1,500 Palestinians were killed over the course of three weeks.
*Anadolu Agency correspondents Hale Turkes from Ankara, Hajer M’tiri from Paris, Inci Gundag and Assed Baig from London, and Baris Seckin from Rome contributed to this story.