Hamas heads 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's announcement that his group is willing to hold cease-fire negotiations with Israel is a "pathetic and misleading attempt to divert international attention away from the crimes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad," President Shimon Peres announced Wednesday.
"If Hamas and Islamic Jihad stop firing rockets at our women and children, Israel will immediately hold its fire, so there is no need for negotiations," Peres said in statement.
"Hamas does not give hope to [the Palestinian] people; its sole purpose is to sow destruction, bloodshed and war and the moment it ceases its violent crimes, peace will once again reign in our region," continued the president.
Earlier Wednesday, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz had said that Israel would accept "mediation" with Hamas in an effort to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
"Mediation is something we can think about but one thing needs to be clear," Mofaz told Army Radio. "This subject is the responsibility of Hamas and the terror groups and as long as these firings and terror from inside the Strip don't stop we must continue this policy and not stop for even one hour."
Right-wing MKs were enraged by Mofaz's remarks.
"When the entire world is boycotting Hamas, should we be the ones to talk to it?" said Likud MK Silvan Shalom.
"It would simply be a terrible mistake," continued Shalom. "Hamas will exploit this period of negotiations to restore its capabilities and continue smuggling weapons. We need to do everything in order to bring about a cessation in Kassam attacks, not through dialogue but through action."
MK Aryeh Eldad (NRP/NU) similarly expressed his dismay at Mofaz's proposal." I am surprised that Mofaz, who gave us several ceasefires in the past, doesn't learn the lessons from what the people of Israel got in return from these supposed ceasefires."
"Mofaz should deal with the faltering issues in his ministry instead of preaching about security issues over which he failed in the past," exclaimed Eldad
MK Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) said Hamas Israel should only talk to Hamas one condition: "That the negotiations secure the release of (captured IDF soldier) Gilad Schalit."
Mofaz's remarks came the day after Haniyeh told a Channel 2 reporter that he was prepared to negotiate an end to the rocket attacks and Israeli strikes. Army Radio reported Wednesday that Haniyeh had earlier relayed the proposal to a senior government official via a third party.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon echoed Mofaz in laying the responsibility on Hamas's shoulders, but was less optimistic regarding the possibility of "mediation" with the leaders in Gaza.
"Hamas's calls for a mutual de-escalation does not stem from a desire for a cease-fire," Ramon told Army Radio. "Hamas controls the Strip, and with a single order it can end the firing of Kassam rockets at Israel. We must keep up military pressure, step up the sanctions and thus undermine Hamas's rule in Gaza."
Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon said that negotiating with Hamas must not be ruled out.
"It is not outrageous to say that we can speak to anyone for the benefit of stopping Kassam attacks, but on condition that these talks do not lead to the strengthening of terror groups," Ayalon told Israel Radio.
The minister said there was a crucial difference between a ceasefire that allows Hamas to recuperate and a ceasefire that leads to its downfall.
Senior Fatah officials claimed Tuesday that a "secret deal" was keeping Israel from killing top Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.
The claims, which were made in response to the killing of 11 Islamic Jihad members by the IDF in the past 48 hours, came against a backdrop of unconfirmed reports in the Arab media suggesting that Hamas representatives have been talking to Israelis.
According to the reports, Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip have conveyed a number of messages to Israel through third parties expressing their readiness to reach a mutual cease-fire.
Israel has refused the offer, according to a report on Army Radio, conditioning any such talks on Hamas's recognition of Israel.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Palestinians, chanting "Revenge, Revenge" and "Death to Israel" attended the funerals of the slain Islamic Jihad members in the Gaza Strip. Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders stayed away from the funerals out of fear of being targeted by Israel.
Islamic Jihad leaders and spokesmen threatened to avenge the killings by stepping up attacks on Israel. They also announced that their supporters in the Gaza Strip would not celebrate Id al-Adha, the Muslim feast of Sacrifice, which begins Wednesday.
Many Palestinians said that as far as they were concerned, there was no reason to celebrate the three-day feast in the wake of the latest events in the Gaza Strip and the continued restrictions on movement in several places in the West Bank.
"This is another sad feast for the Palestinians," said Omar Shaheen, a businessman from Ramallah. "How can anyone celebrate when you watch all the killings on TV almost every night?"
Amjad Abu Haj, a journalist and writer from Nablus, said many families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could not afford to buy new clothes or toys for their children to celebrate the feast. He also pointed out that many families were unable to purchase meat and sweets because of the high prices.
Hamas's response to the killings was much more restrained. Statements issued by a number of Hamas officials strongly condemned the assassination of Islamic Jihad members as another result of the Annapolis peace conference and this week's donors' gathering in Paris.
But unlike their Islamic Jihad counterparts, senior Hamas officials refrained from issuing public threats against Israel. A laconic statement posted on one of the Hamas Web sites said Israel would one day pay a heavy price for its "crimes."
The Fatah officials said they were convinced that Israel and Hamas had reached some kind of an agreement. "It's not by coincidence that Israel hasn't been targeting Hamas leaders," said Sufyan Abu Zaidah, a former Fatah cabinet minister. "There's a lot of talk about some kind of a deal [between Hamas and Israel]."
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a senior advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Hamas of "colluding" with Israel to eliminate the Islamic Jihad organization.
"Hamas is acting in a disgraceful manner," he said. "They are working with Israel against the resistance groups because the Hamas leaders care only about their positions. Hamas wants to remain in power at any price."
In another development, Abbas said Tuesday he supported a French proposal to deploy an international force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"We are in favor of President [Nicolas] Sarkozy's idea and we are going to work for it to become an international position," Abbas said. "We accept it."
At Monday's donors' conference in Paris, Sarkozy called for an international force "when the time comes and when the conditions are right" to "support the Palestinian security services."
But Hamas and several armed groups rejected the idea, saying they would use force to prevent international troops from entering the Gaza Strip. "We will treat them as an occupation force and they will be targeted just like Israel," said a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committee, an alliance of terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
AP contributed to this report
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