Haniyeh: Israel refuses to reopen Rafah in truce

Hamas PM claims cease-fire request came from US and Israel, Palestinians "aren't begging for calm."

Haniyeh rally 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Haniyeh rally 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel has refused to include the reopening of the Rafah border crossing in a possible Gaza truce agreement, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Thursday. Haniyeh told reporters in the Strip that the opening of the crossing was an essential component of any agreement. "Any agreement must include a timetable for the opening of the Gaza crossings and a list of goods that can be transferred through them," he said. Haniyeh's comments came after Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Security-Diplomatic Bureau, and Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman met in Cairo for two hours in a bid to wrap up a Gaza truce deal. Gilad sought clarifications on Egypt's efforts to stem Hamas weapons smuggling and on the possible release of captured IDF soldier Giald Schalit. On Wednesday, the Security Cabinet decided against a massive ground offensive in Gaza, in order to give Egypt more time to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Israeli government and security officials said Israel was willing to give the Egyptian mediation efforts about two more weeks to succeed, but if those efforts fail, it would invade Gaza. Earlier, at the end of a day of severe violence in the Gaza Strip, Haniyeh made a defiant speech, saying that Gaza gunmen were defending the rights of the Palestinian people and claiming that a request for a cease-fire came from the US and Israel, not Hamas. "Even if the blockade continues a lot longer, we still won't recognize Israel," Haniyeh exclaimed during a conference in the Strip. Haniyeh said that Gazans were stronger than the siege. "We will withstand the siege under which bigger countries would have collapsed and given in to demands," he said. "The Palestinian groups led by the Hamas military wing are those who are defending the Palestinians' rights and who are enabling the Palestinian leadership to stick to its principles," continued Haniyeh. He expressed confidence that the Gaza blockade would collapse and said that US officials had already admitted that it would not achieve its objectives. "The Israel-American siege policy has started to crumble and our relations with the countries in the region and other Arab states are good," the Hamas prime minister stated. He claimed that ties with many European countries were improving. "Not a week passes without a meeting between us and European officials and representatives from European international organizations," he said, adding that talks between Hamas and European officials were taking place in Gaza, the West Bank and overseas. Referring to the explosion in Gaza earlier Thursday in which four people were killed, and for which Israel denied responsibly, Haniyeh said, "The daily Zionist aggression proves that the Israelis cannot implement the large-scale operation that they are talking about." Nevertheless, Haniyeh said he believed Gazans must exercise caution, since "under the constant threat of a large-scale operation, the Israeli army is carrying out attacks in which many civilians are killed." Regarding Egyptian efforts to broker a truce in Gaza, Haniyeh said that a cease-fire was not a Hamas request but was proposed by the US and Israel. "The Palestinians are not begging for calm," he said. "The Israelis are concerned that things will end like they did with Hizbullah and they understand that Hamas is not an organization made up of a few cells, but one with many wings and with a deep hold on land and on the Palestinian public." The Hamas prime minister went on to say that the movement would not disappear. "Those who will disappear are the Israeli leaders who want Hamas to disappear, like [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon and [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert...whoever replaces him will also disappear but we will continue to exist."