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Ceasefire talk little comfort for Gazans

Jan. 17, 2009 12:14 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 17, 2009 12:14 P.M.)
Gaza/Bethlehem - Ma'an - The marathon negotiations of politicians are little comfort for the beleaguered people of Gaza.

Gaza is the subject of debate as Hamas and Israel continue their back-and-forth ceasefire talks in Egypt, the Arab states stage three separate summits, the UN secretary-general tours the region and the Israeli foreign minister jets to Washington.

"Now people are actually hoping - they think there is a possibility to stop the fire," said Rawan, a 22-year-old teacher from Gaza City. Her house is just minutes away from the Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood, where the most intense shelling of the war took place on Thursday.

Last week Gazans placed their hopes on the United Nations Security Council, which did call for an immediate ceasefire. Their hopes were dashed the next day when the Israeli government responded to the resolution with more bombing. This week Israeli Foreign Minster Tzipi Livni stated, speaking in a luxury hotel in Israel, that the bombing will stop, "whenever Israel decides."

"You light a candle of hope and then it goes out, and then you light another one," says Rawan.

Rawan and her family have been trapped indoors for three weeks now mainly without electricity and often without running water. An explosion blew out the windows of their house, in the upscale Rimal neighborhood, in the early days of the bombardment, so there is nothing to shelter the family from the frigid January air. Many of Rawan's cousins have moved into her house, as Rimal is perceived to be safer than other areas of the city.

Rawan, however, is aware of the reality that there is no shelter in Gaza: "People move from house to house, but where can they go, really?" As she speaks, displaced families, children in tow, stream past her blown-out windows.

As the politicians argue about the details of the ceasefire, people die. On Saturday morning, Israeli forces shelled another UN shelter, this time in Beit Lahiya, killing more innocents.

"It looks as if all the pieces of the puzzle are coming together," said Mark Regev, the spokesperson of the Israeli prime minister. He was speaking on Friday evening.

"There will be discussions tomorrow morning, and it looks like a cabinet meeting will take place tomorrow night. Everyone is very upbeat," Regev said.

Even as these pronouncements eschewed from the Israeli political eschelon, Israel was sending a different message to people in Gaza. As recently as Friday morning, Gaza residents reported receiving automated phone calls from the Israeli military warning of the "coming stage" operations in the territory.

During the call, received on land line phones in Gaza, a recorded voice warns in Arabic against "hiding Hamas members in your home."

It is feared that the call could signal the dreaded "Third Stage" of the Gaza war - an all out invasion of the Strip's city centers.
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