J'lem, Hamas seek cautious de-escalation, ceasefire

Barak: "We'll stop firing if they stop"; Hamas: Gaza factions uninterested in escalation; rift appears between Hamas political, armed wings.

IDF soldiers near Gaza border 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
IDF soldiers near Gaza border 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Officials in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip on Sunday softened their statements in an apparent attempt to deescalate the situation developing in the Gaza Strip.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday that Jerusalem was willing to accept a mutual ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza after several days of projectile fire and IDF strikes, adding that
"If it will be necessary, we will act, but when it's not necessary, we don't need to. Restraint is also a form of strength."RELATED:Anti-tank missile, 3 mortars fired from Gaza StripIDF’s Gaza maps now show sensitive sitesSa'ar: Hamas has sustained heavy damage in recent days
"If they stop firing on our communities, we will stop firing. If they stop firing in general, it will be quiet, it will be good," Barak told Israel Radio.
Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip Sami Abu Zuhri on Sunday said that "The Palestinian factions are not interested in escalation." He added, "if the Israeli aggression stopped, it would be natural for calm to be restored."
The current round of violence began on Thursday when Hamas' armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, fired an anti-tank missile at an Israel school bus, leaving a 16-year-old in critical condition. Over the weekend, Palestinian terrorist groups in the Strip fired over 120 mortars, Kassam and Grad rockets into Israeli territory. Nearly two-dozen Palestinians, including members of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have been killed in IDF strikes.
Israel Radio reported that officials in Jerusalem had received a request from Hamas' political wing through intermediaries asking for a cease fire Saturday afternoon.
There appeared, however, to be a rift between the group's political echelon in Damascus and Gaza City and its armed wing in the Strip. According to a senior Palestinian security official, Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh accused Izzadin Kassam commander Ahmed Jabari of being a "megalomaniac," saying that he had begun the current escalation with Israel against the wishes of the group's political leadership, Israel Radio reported.
According to the source, Jabari's decision to escalate the situation was partly motivated by the assassination of his close friend, Ismail a-Lobed, who was the organization's point man for smuggling weapons into Gaza from the Sinai Peninsula.
Additionally, Hamas on Saturday claimed that "it was not known that the bus targeted on the outskirts of Gaza carried schoolchildren."
Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Sunday expressed hope that Israel is not drawn into another war in the Gaza Strip but warned Hamas against testing Jerusalem's willingness to defend itself, in an interview on Army Radio.
"I don't recommend that Hamas test us in the coming days," he warned. "They have taken some hard hits and they will sustain even harsher ones" if they continue firing rockets and mortars at Israel, he said.
The deputy prime minister, who also serves as minister of strategic affairs, addressed internal arguments and power struggles taking place between Hamas' military and political echelons, saying that it "doesn't interest us." If Hamas is in charge of the Gaza Strip, he said, "they they are responsible" for what happens there.
He added that since the days of former PLO chairman Yassir Arafat, Jerusalem's policy has been that in any territory it doesn't control, it demands responsibility from whoever is in power.
Reuters contributed to this report