How the ‘imminent’ Gaza ceasefire unravelled

Peter Beaumont reports from Cairo: As frantic diplomatic efforts continued to secure a ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, which saw the US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, arrive in Cairo on Wednesday vowing to work to find an end to the latest conflict, details of the stumbling blocks in the negotiations began to emerge.

On Tuesday evening, despite the continuing violence, an imminent ceasefire appeared certain to many close to the negotiations.

One diplomat who attended an event in Cairo with a number of prominent Islamist politicians was assured a truce “was in the bag” and went to sleep expecting to wake to news of a ceasefire.

But what happened in the period between when Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, and a senior Hamas spokesman indicated a truce would be in force by Tuesday night is instructive of the profound problems that lie ahead in attempting to secure a meaningful long-term ceasefire.

According to those familiar with the negotiations being mediated on the Egyptian side by Morsi and General Mohamed Shehata, head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, talks had originally focused on a two- to three-stage ceasefire.

The first stage was to have been what is known as a “temporary lull” or tahdiya in Arabic followed by a hudna – a truce or calming period which it had been hoped would set the scene for a longer-term agreement on issues relating both to the blockade of Gaza and assassinations of Hamas figures on one side and Israeli security demands regarding rocket fire on the other.

During Tuesday afternoon and evening that process began unravelling as both sides came under internal pressure to achieve what has proved so difficult before: to come to a comprehensive settlement in one go. [Continue reading...]

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