An uneasy peace continued on Monday in the Gaza Strip after weekend truces ended -- at least temporarily -- a three-week Israeli offensive which left as many as 1,300 Palestinians dead.
Israel called a cease-fire on Saturday, claiming its war aims had been met. The militant Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, responded with its own truce on Sunday, saying it would hold fire for one week to give Israel time to withdraw its troops.
Israel continued moving its troops and tanks out of the territory on Monday. Government spokesman Mark Regev said that Israel's departure would be "almost immediate," provided Gaza remains calm. Unnamed Israeli officials told the Associated Press on Monday that Israeli troops would leave the Gaza Strip before Barack Obama's inauguration as US president on Tuesday.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert emphasized that Israel had no desire to stay in Gaza. "We didn't set out to control Gaza, we don't want to remain in Gaza and we intend (to leave) Gaza as quickly as possible," he told visiting European leaders at a dinner in Jerusalem on Sunday night.
Hamas for its part claimed that Israel had failed to achieve its war aims. "God has granted us a great victory, not for one faction, or party, or area, but for our entire people," said the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, in a televised speech.
The Israeli offensive, which lasted over three weeks and was aimed at stopping rocket attacks on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, killed around 400 Hamas members, according to the militant group. Many of the rest, according to Palestinian figures, were women and children. A total of 13 Israelis were killed. The Gaza Strip is now said to be in dire need of basic supplies, with shortages of food, medicine and fuel being reported. Some 4,000 buildings are reported to have been destroyed.
It is unclear how long the fragile cease-fire will last. Around 20 rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip after Israel announced its cease-fire, with Israel responding with an air strike. However the situation on the ground was reported to be peaceful Monday.
As the post-war analysis begins, many questions remain. The extent to which Israel will open border crossings to Gaza remains unclear, as does the current extent of Hamas's power and how the Gaza population will view the organization in the future. The key issue of how to stop weapons smuggling across the Egyptian border to Gaza also remains open. Israel signed a security accord Friday with the US that calls for increased information-sharing and technical assistance to prevent Hamas from obtaining smuggled weapons. Israel has said it will resume military action if Hamas attempts to continue smuggling arms into Gaza.
Hamas, however, was adamant in its attention to re-arm. "Do whatever you want. Manufacturing the holy weapons is our mission and we know how to acquire weapons," Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas's armed wing, told a news conference Monday.
Commentators writing in Germany's main papers Monday were split over what Israel had achieved during the offensive and how to move forward.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"What has Israel's offensive actually achieved, apart from more than 1,300 people dead, more than 5,300 wounded, and some relatively unproductive crisis diplomacy? Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that the aim of the offensive had been achieved. But so far he still hasn't spelled out what the objective of the war against Hamas actually was. He has only talked in vague terms of wanting to change the security situation in the south of Israel. But just in the past three weeks alone, Hamas terrorists fired more than 700 rockets at Israel. Hence Olmert is trying, shortly before the end of his term in office, to put a positive spin on his second war -- just as he did with the Lebanon war in 2006."
"Hamas may be divided and hundreds of its fighters may be dead, but the majority of the 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip see Israel as being responsible for the devastation and destruction. Israel's supposed victory, which Olmert talks of, is in reality a defeat. The campaign has sown hatred and anger and brought Israel only insecurity in return."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Israel has largely achieved what can be achieved militarily in terms of weakening Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, its tough -- sometimes too tough -- response to the rocket attacks against Israeli towns is a signal to the Lebanese group Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, who are equipped with missiles of ever-increasing range and who will therefore sooner or later have the capability to strike targets in the Israeli heartland. The offensive against the terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip was also aimed at Tehran, home to the weapons suppliers and those who stir up the conflict."
"Anything more than a -- hopefully long-lasting -- cease-fire in the Middle East is currently unachievable. It is still too early to be talking about a peace process."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Israel is certainly a big step closer to its aim of bringing weapons smuggling into Gaza under control. The EU has pledged its support, and the US wants to cooperate more closely with Israel by sharing intelligence in order to intercept weapon deliveries coming from Tehran. But did it really need a war to achieve this? Did the Europeans and the Americans really need a military operation and hundreds of dead children in order to be convinced that cooperating with Israel makes sense? The Western nations are on the same page when it comes to the fight against Islamic extremism and terrorism. The three-week bombardment of Gaza was first and foremost aimed at convincing Hamas (to stop its rocket attacks). Everything else is a byproduct."
"Hamas has survived the war. It exists, and it is here to stay. Therefore, it is essential that an easing of the Western boycott against the Islamists is considered. A gradual process should be sought, with the participation of the moderate Palestinian leadership, with the aim of creating normalcy for the people in Gaza."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"One must first recognize the central problem (of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and then deal with it thoroughly. The main issue which needs to be addressed is the support that religious -- in this case Islamic -- fundamentalism and its representatives receive from both governments and, especially, religious leaders."
"The most important thing is the rhetoric of hate which originates in many mosques and is then spread by Arab TV and radio stations and the Internet. The fight -- including the armed struggle -- of Islam against all 'infidels' is not only promoted but both encouraged and demanded. Potential suicide bombers are praised and promised glorious rewards in paradise.... It is now up to the political and religious leaders of the West to assert their influence. Only when all imams stop glorifying murder can there be real peace in the Holy land. The people in Gaza, and also in Sderot, deserve it."