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Arab League delegation in Gaza for solidarity, ceasefire

One week into Israel's latest onslaught, Arab League delegation heads to besieged Gaza Strip in hopes of taking steps towards ending the bloodshed

Dina Ezzat , Monday 19 Nov 2012
Nabil El-Arabi
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi
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Along with six Arab foreign ministers, including the Palestinian Authority's Riyad Al-Maliki, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi is expected to arrive in Gaza on Monday for an hours-long visit to show solidarity with the Palestinians of the besieged and impoverished coastal enclave, under fierce Israeli bombardment since last Wednesday.

Foreign ministers of Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and Lebanon will be part of the delegation visiting Gaza, bearing a message  that Arab diplomats say is "one of reason and wisdom."

"We're talking about a truce that should be announced by Thursday, to which Hamas has already agreed in principle," said an informed Egyptian official. "The details are still being worked out."

According to this official and Arab League sources, Palestinian resistance faction Hamas – which has governed the strip since 2007 – is well aware that it must accept a ceasefire, to be followed by a truce, and that all Arab states support this position.

On Saturday evening, following numerous delays, Arab foreign ministers met at the Arab League's Cairo headquarters to discuss a joint response to the crisis. A communiqué issued in the wake of the meeting called on relevant parties to end aggression on Gaza; attend to the dire humanitarian crisis in the strip; and pursue a just and permanent peace.  

The 'or else' factor was indirect: Arabs would reconsider their 2002 offer of a comprehensive peace agreement, and might even mull the suspension of all forms of cooperation with Israel, including trade.

In the words of Arab diplomats who took part in the meeting's deliberations, gone are the days when certain countries – headed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia – would demand language blaming Hamas for the crisis, while an opposing camp – headed by Syria – would champion Hamas. At Saturday's meeting, none of the attendant foreign ministers came anywhere near to blaming Hamas.

"Egypt was advocating a truce, for sure. But the fact that Egypt sent its prime minister to Gaza after recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv made it very difficult for anybody to point the finger at Hamas," according to one Arab League diplomat. He added that the issue was clear: show support and sympathy – "and this is something not even Saudi objected to," he noted – and press for cautious steps towards a viable ceasefire.

Speaking in Cairo on Monday afternoon following talks with top intelligence officials, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal publicly agreed to a peace deal, but conditioned this on Israel first stopping its onslaught.

Arab and Cairo-based western diplomatic sources say any ceasefire proposal will have to be accepted by both Hamas and Israel. According to one western diplomat, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is currently working to secure such an agreement with the Tel Aviv regime.

The terms of the ceasefire proposal are reportedly still being hashed out. Hamas, for its part, is keen to "get something" in return for the aggression the embattled strip has been subjected to.

"Hamas wants Israel's longstanding siege on Gaza lifted, while Israel is only offering to allow a wider humanitarian aid package," said an Egyptian source. He added that both Egypt and Turkey had been given assurances by Israel that humanitarian aid from the two countries would be allowed into the territory.

Meanwhile, Qatar, according to the same sources, has promised Gaza a generous reconstruction package and to help work out possible exit scenarios for certain Hamas elements that Israel wants out of the coastal enclave.

By the time El-Arabi and the foreign ministers arrive in Gaza, a ceasefire proposal will likely be in the offing. Their visit, meanwhile, along with earlier visits by Arab dignitaries, has provided Hamas with an additional gain: the symbolic breaking of the longstanding siege.

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