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'Israel halted Gaza invasion to give talks more time'
By TOVAH LAZAROFF AND KHALED ABU TOAMEH
19/11/2012
Hamas's Mashaal says Israel must initiate cease-fire.
 
Israel agreed to briefly hold off on sending ground forces into Gaza to allow time for cease-fire efforts to continue, an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Speaking at a press conference in Cairo Monday, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said although Hamas is aware that Israel is "capable" of an invasion, it would not "be a picnic, but a political disaster" for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Mashaal stated that if Israel wants a truce, it must initiate the cease-fire as they started the war, adding that Hamas caught Israel "off-guard" with their weapons. He also claimed that Netanyahu had asked for the cease-fire.

"Netanyahu was the one who requested a cease-fire from the Americans, Egypt and the Europeans," Mashaal told reporters in Cairo. "We were not the ones to ask for a cease-fire."

Officials in the prime minister's office denied Mashaal's assertion that Netanyahu asked for a cease fire.

"We have been hitting Hamas very hard," the official said. He explained that Israel had from the air attacked its weapons arsenal, its leadership, its buildings and communication apparatus.

"Hamas is under a lot of pressure and as a result they are saying many things, that are in no way connected to reality," he said.

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Israel had agreed to briefly hold off on sending ground forces into Gaza, to allow time for cease-fire efforts to continue, an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“Israel prefers a diplomatic solution,” the official said. But he added that any agreement must provide a real solution that would erase the threat of rocket attacks against Israel’s southern residents.

If such a diplomatic solution is not found, then Israel is preparing its ground forces to enter Gaza, the official said.

Mashaal warned Israel against launching a ground offensive on the Gaza Strip, adding that such a move would be "idiotic."

The ground war won't be a picnic, he cautioned. "Rather, it will bury Netanyahu politically. We are not afraid of a ground war. If the enemy launches a ground attack, we will face it with courage."

Mashaal said that discussions to acheive a cease-fire were continuing, "but Hamas won't succumb to Israel's conditions."

Hamas, he pointed out, was not opposed to a truce and is continuing to insist on the need to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip and halt Israeli military strikes.

"Netanyahu wants to negotiate with us with gunfire in order to impose his conditions on us," Mashaal said.

UN's Ban arrives in Cairo

He spoke as negotiations for a cease-fire continued in Cairo, where UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon arrived Monday evening.

Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair told President Shimon Peres that Egypt, Qatar, America and the UN were working to put in place a ceasefire.

Peres said that he appreciated efforts by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to end the hostilities.

“Egypt is a significant player in the Middle East. Strangely, it is Hamas that doesn’t listen to the Egyptian President,” he said.

Peres accused Iran of pressuring Hamas to continue the hostilities.

Iran is supplying Hamas “with arms, training them and sending them money,” Peres said.

Mashaal claims balance of power

Addressing Netanyahu, the Hamas leader said: "Gaza is not the weak chapter for your adventures. Gaza won't be a testing ground for you. He who started the war should end it. This is the position of the political and military [Hamas] leadership."

Mashaal boasted that Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip managed to acheive a balance of power with Israel within 48 hours after the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas's armed wing, Izzadin al-Kassam.

Mashaal accused Netanyahu of ordering the IDF to target Hamas-affiliated institutions and media outlets " to cover up for his crimes."

He said that while Netanyahu had succeeded in killing Jabari, "he has failed to restore his army's deterrence capability."

He also criticized the US Administration, accusing it of double standards in dealing with the current conflict.

"What kind of a logic is this that says that Israel alone has the right to self-defense?" Mashaal asked.

Ezat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, said Monday that his movement would not accept a cease-fire "at any price."

Risheq reiterated Hamas's conditions for accepting a cease-fire, namely the lifting of the blockade and international assurances that Israel would stop its military operations in the future.

He claimed that Israel was in a state of "panic" because of the response of the Palestinian armed groups to the killing of Jabari.
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