Ceasefire brings hope to the Middle East

Last updated 13:00 22/11/2012

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OPINION: United States President Barack Obama is hailing a ceasefire agreement to end a week of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr made the announcement at a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this morning. According to some reports, the ceasefire comes with Egyptian "guarantees".

It ends eight days of the fiercest fighting in nearly four years, with both sides promising to halt attacks on each other and Israel agreeing to ease a blockade of Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only agreed to the ceasefire after speaking with Mr Obama.

Whether it will hold remains to be seen. Just prior to the announcement, there was a bomb explosion in Tel Aviv.

Israel launched the fierce offensive on Gaza on November 14 to stop months of intensifying rocket attacks. Israel launched well over 1500 air strikes and other attacks, while more than 1000 rockets pounded Israel. In all, more than 140 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, were killed, while five Israelis died in the fighting.

What led to this latest round of violence, and what was Egypt's position in trying to broker a truce?

According to some reports, a ceasefire between the two parties was being negotiated, through Egyptian intelligence, when the decision to kill Hamas chief of staff Ahmed al-Jabari was made.

The upcoming general election in Israel appears to have played a part in the latest hostilities. The attacks on Lebanon in 1996 and Gaza in 2008-09 happened on the eve of elections, although ironically, military action led to defeats. Some say Israel may have been looking for another target after being deprived of an attack on Iran.

Egypt's role in brokering a ceasefire deal cannot be underestimated. The country's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, has found himself between a rock and a hard place. The pressure has been on him to stand up for the beleaguered Palestinians, unlike former president Hosni Mubarak, who was a key ally of the US. Mr Morsi has had to tread a fine line, as he knows regional instability would hit his country hard, and its faltering economy relies heavily on Western aid.

Egypt was not alone in brokering a peace deal - Turkey and Qatar were supporting it. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a delegation of Arab foreign ministers made trips to Gaza.

Mr Morsi has been walking a tightrope - he condemned "Israeli aggression" and withdrew Egypt's ambassador to Tel Aviv. During the hostilities, he did not offer military support to Hamas, nor did he threaten action against Israel.

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The dynamics have changed in the Middle East. This latest conflict has turned the spotlight on the relationship between Israel and Egypt as much as the one between Israel and Hamas. Potentially, it is far more dangerous and could have more far-reaching consequences than any previous conflict.

Let's hope that the current ceasefire will hold, as it is crucial for the stability of the region.

- Nelson

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