The truce between Israel and Hamas held into its 4th day today, as international mediators continue efforts to secure an extended period of calm after the worst outbreak of fighting since the 2014 war between the two sides.
While a tense calm with Gaza prevails, the situation remains volatile in Jerusalem.
Two Israelis, including an IDF soldier, were today moderately injured in a stabbing attack in the capital by a knife-wielding Palestinian terrorist, who was shot dead during his assault by a nearby Border Police officer.
At least 33 rioters have been arrested in Jerusalem over the past two weeks, including physical assault of passersby and police, as well as the throwing of firebombs and rocks at homes.
A regularly scheduled visit to Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City was nevertheless permitted to take place yesterday. Both Christians and Jews are banned from unauthorized trips to the sacred compound, where the Muslims built the al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques atop both biblical temples. Israeli social media showed images of a few dozen Jews in religious garb at the flashpoint site walking under police escort, with no unusual incidents reported.
Muslims call the complex Haram al Sharif (Arabic for the Noble Sanctuary) and regard the area as the third holiest in Islam. It is situated on the east side of the city, which was reunified after it was captured by Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Palestinians demand east Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital of a future state, while Israel considers Jerusalem to be the historical and indivisible capital of the Jewish People.
Gaza purportedly began its latest offensive, dubbed “Sword of Jerusalem,” over Arab clashes in the city with police near the al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan and a property dispute in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken is also due to arrive in the region today “to discuss essential follow-up efforts to consolidate the ceasefire and reduce risks of further conflict over the coming months,” according to a State Department communique received by TV7.
According to the statement, the US remains “engaged in intensive diplomacy to bring an end to the hostilities in Gaza,” and “Secretary Blinken is undertaking this trip at the request of President Joe Biden.”
The first stop of the top US diplomat will be in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and other senior Israeli officials.
He will then meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, and other senior officials from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, later traveling to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
The US Secretary will conclude his trip with a stop in Amman to meet with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.
The Egyptian-mediated ceasefire of the Operation Guardian of the Walls went into effect on Friday.
The Palestinian terror groups are estimated to have fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli population centers over the 11-day conflict. Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system is credited with a 90% interception rate, and at least 680 of the projectiles misfired or fell short into Gaza’s own territory. Between 60 to 70 rockets managed to slam into Israeli towns and cities, killing 12 civilians and 1 soldier.
The IDF retaliated with precision strikes aimed at eliminating rocket launching pads, terrorist commanders, underground tunnels and other military infrastructure. Despite warnings for Gaza civilians to evacuate targeted areas hours in advance of the strikes, there were some civilian casualties. Palestinian sources say that at least 248 people were killed in Gaza, of whom at least 225 were combatants according to the Israeli military.
US President Biden has said Washington will work with United Nations agencies to expedite humanitarian aid for Gaza “in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal.” The US, Israel and several Western nations have officially recognized Hamas as a terror organization.
Secretary Blinken emphasized during interviews televised yesterday that while the Biden administration is now focused was on aid, reconstruction and diplomacy, an end to violence could help shift gears toward long-term peace.
“We’ll be re-engaging with the Palestinians — of course continuing our deep engagement with the Israelis — in trying to put in place conditions that allow us over time, hopefully, to advance a genuine peace process,” Blinken told CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program, clarifying, “ But that is not the immediate order of business” and “We have a lot of work to get to that point.”
“If we come out of this operation with an extended period of peace and quiet, that’s good for Israel’s civilians and that’s good for Palestinians in Gaza too,” said Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Egyptian negotiators have been engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Israel, the Hamas-ruled Palestinian enclave and West Bank headquarters of the Islamist group’s bitter rival, Fatah.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on Saturday he would meet soon with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, after they spoke on Friday. “I emphasized to him that any future arrangement would have to include guarantees regarding security issues and policy principles,” Ashkenazi said on his Twitter page, adding that these included “stopping Hamas’ armament.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry also met with top Jordanian officials yesterday on strategies to de-escalate violence and revive the Middle East peace process.
Israel’s Abraham Accords partner the United Arab Emirates on Sunday announced that also said it stands ready to facilitate peace efforts.
The United Nations Security Council on Saturday called for “the full adherence” to the ceasefire and stressed the immediate need for humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in response that it was “very unfortunate” that the statement from the 15-member council “ignored the launching of over 4,000 rockets at Israeli civilians from populated areas in Gaza.” Israel’s defense establishment remains highly-concerned over the replenishment of Hamas’ arsenal of low-cost, home-made rockets largely constructed with civilian materials and Iranian financing and expertise.
High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell on Saturday urged Israel and the Palestinians to return to meaningful negotiations toward a Two-State solution, which have been deadlocked for years.
“The EU cannot be expected to finance yet again the re-building of Gaza without a meaningful prospect of actually solving the underlying conflict,” Borrell wrote in a blog post.