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Truce enshrines Egypt's mediator role in Gaza wars

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Gaza truce drawn up by Egypt shows Cairo has an "indispensable" role mediating conflicts between Israel and Hamas, despite strained ties with the Palestinian faction, analysts said Tuesday.

Israel withdrew all of its forces from Gaza on Tuesday after nearly a month-long deadly campaign, as a 72-hour ceasefire announced by Cairo went into effect.

The truce started at 0500 GMT, just days after a similar attempt by the United Nations and the United States to secure a three-day ceasefire from Friday -- without Egyptian involvement -- fell through.

"The failure of that truce shows that Egypt is indispensible to any solution in Gaza," Nathan Thrall, Jerusalem-based senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told AFP.

"There was never any possibility of sidelining Egypt from any ceasefire agreement... Egypt was motivated not to be sidelined and not to lose its primacy in the process of mediation."

But there were also other factors that prompted Cairo to reach out to Hamas and invite it to submit its conditions for a ceasefire, although animosity runs high between the two sides, analysts said.

Egypt has banned Hamas, an affiliate of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood of president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed last year by former army chief and current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Cairo accuses Hamas of collaborating with Morsi to plot "terrorist attacks" inside Egypt.

Egyptian police have cracked down brutally on the Brotherhood, killing more than 1,400 of its supporters in street clashes since Morsi's ouster in July 2013.

The army has also destroyed more than 1,600 tunnels that connect Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula with Gaza, and which militants have used to smuggle weapons and consumer supplies to blockaded Gaza.

- Hamas needs Egypt -

Palestinian factions, including Hamas, who thrashed out the truce details in Cairo are demanding a long-term ceasefire, the pullout of Israeli troops from Gaza and the lifting of the blockade.

They also want border crossings with Gaza to be opened, as well as fishing rights up to 12 nautical miles off Gaza's coast and the release of Palestinians jailed in Israel.

Thrall said Hamas needs Egypt for a truce to take hold.

Hamas was aware that any "negotiated ceasefire will entail changes in easing of the Gaza blockade and that easing requires Egypt's cooperation," he added.

Egypt controls the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, the primary route used by Palestinians to connect with the outside world.

But Thrall cautioned that ties between the two will remain tense.

"Egypt is looking at Gaza and Hamas through the prism of its domestic battle with the Muslim Brotherhood. For Egypt, Hamas is its single enemy and that is not changing despite the ceasefire talks."

Analysts also noted that the high number of casualties in Gaza, where more than 1,800 people have been killed since Israel launched its operation on July 8, helped Egypt to step in actively and press for a truce.

"Egypt is not independent from Palestinian politics," said Michael Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation.

Palestinian president Mahmud "Abbas has shifted his position and so did Egypt," he said, referring to Abbas's backing of Hamas's demands for a truce.

"Israel has been battered by international public opinion... and the mounting human sufferings in Gaza" led to a joint Palestinian position, in turn influencing Egypt to shift its approach, Hanna added.

Egypt had snubbed Hamas when making an initial ceasefire offer during the early days of the conflict, triggering the fury of the Palestinian group.

- Pullout helped Egypt -

The initial withdrawal of some Israeli troops from certain areas of Gaza on Saturday was also a game-changer for Egypt to step in actively, analysts said.

"The fact that the Israelis had started to withdraw made the (Egyptian) ceasefire much more feasible," said James Dorsey of the Singapore-based Rajratnam School of International Studies.

"Israel began withdrawing as it felt it has significantly damaged Palestinian military capability, and it will take a very long time for Palestinians to rebuild."

Israel has said it has destroyed all of the known tunnels used by militants to attack its territory.

"Egypt's job was made easy as one of the key demands (of Palestinians) of Israeli withdrawal was already decided. Egypt's timing was right," Dorsey said.

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