Israel sends Hamas cease-fire signals

Hamas prepared to stop Kassam fire if Israel ends operations in Gaza, W. Bank.

Kassam is jihad  298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Kassam is jihad 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Recognizing that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is incapable of halting the Kassam rocket fire from Gaza, Israel reportedly is conveying messages indirectly to Hamas to try and secure a cease-fire. While insisting that Israel was not maintaining a continuous, indirect dialogue with Hamas, a government official on Thursday night acknowledged that messages were "getting through." The government appeared to be seeking a "de facto" hudna arrangement that would include the release of kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit in an exchange for Palestinian prisoners, a halt to targeted killings of terrorists in Gaza and an end to the Kassam attacks out of Gaza, former National Security Council chief Giora Eiland said Thursday. The government official who spoke to The Jerusalem Post would not go into any specifics, however, saying only that Israel's messages were reaching Hamas "in different ways." His comments came as Egypt on Thursday moved to the forefront in efforts to bring about an easing of tensions in the South. And on Thursday night, Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib said that his group, Hamas, Fatah and other factions were prepared to stop firing Kassams into Israel if Israel halted all military action in Gaza and the West Bank. Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was in Cairo for talks with Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and Israeli officials said there were stepped-up efforts to talk to the Egyptians at a "strategic level" about shutting down arms smuggling into Gaza. Officials have said repeatedly over the past few days that the buildup of the terrorist infrastructure through the weapons tunnels from Sinai was of even greater concern to Jerusalem than the daily Kassam attacks on the Western Negev. Asked whether Israel was using Egypt as a third party through which to convey various messages to Hamas in an attempt to reach a de facto cease-fire, the officials offered neither a confirmation nor a denial. The officials said that despite Wednesday evening's talks that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz and foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman held with Abbas's confidants, Sa'eb Erekat and Rafik Husseini, Israel was extremely skeptical about the PA chairman's ability to deliver a cease-fire. "Even if he would want to, do you think Abbas has the capability of delivering on a cease-fire?" one official asked rhetorically. "Let's be realistic." The official denied that Wednesday night's talks were a way of reaching Hamas through Abbas. An official in the Prime Minister's Office characterized the talks as "productive," saying the teams would meet again soon. No date was given for another meeting. The officials said the two sides were getting closer to putting together an Olmert-Abbas meeting. Although Olmert has indicted a willingness to meet Abbas immediately, Abbas has conditioned such a meeting on the release of Palestinian prisoners, something Olmert has refused to do until Shalit is released. Government officials were dismissive of reports originating in the Arab press that Shalit would be released in the near future, saying Hamas had an interest in creating expectations that the release of the soldier was imminent, so that they could blame Israel when it doesn't materialize. Ever since Shalit was kidnapped in late June, there has been a pattern of optimistic reports in the Arab media about his release that have all turned out to be baseless. Mashaal was reportedly talking to Suleiman in Egypt about Shalit's fate. Government officials said a realism has settled in about Abbas's inability to deliver a cease-fire, together with the understanding that there is not one military operation that will shut down the Kassam rocket fire, and that there was a need to operate systematically on a number of different planes. On the tactical level, Israel's strategy was to continue the military operation in Gaza against areas from which the rockets were launched, where the rockets were being manufactured and where they were stored, the officials said. But, the officials said, this was something that must be done carefully because "Gaza is the most densely populated area in the world," something that had to be taken into consideration when deciding how to act. Secondly, the officials said, military operations would focus on targeting those who were responsible at an operational level for the missile attacks. Furthermore, the officials said, there was a need to deal with the Egyptians to get more cooperation in shutting down the widespread arms smuggling operations.