Hamas fumes at Egypt as talks collapse

Hamas: Egypt supporting Israeli position; Suleiman warns rejecting talks gives Israel excuse for Gaza op.

Hamas gunmen 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Hamas gunmen 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
After rejecting Israel's conditions for a cease-fire, Hamas officials on Thursday expressed disappointment over Egypt's failure to endorse their stance. "Instead of putting pressure on Israel to accept the truce, the Egyptians are pushing us to accept the Israeli conditions," a top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post. A Hamas delegation that held talks in Cairo this week with Egyptian General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman left Egypt Thursday after failing to reach an agreement on the terms of the truce proposal. The delegation, which was made up of Hamas leaders from the Gaza Strip and Syria, was headed by Mahmoud Zahar and Musa Abu Marzouk. Suleiman presented to the Hamas delegation what he described as Israel's "conditions" for accepting the Egyptian truce initiative, the official told the Post. The conditions, he said, were "completely unacceptable" and were aimed at "further humiliating the Palestinians and aggravating their suffering." The Hamas representatives left Cairo "with a sense of great disappointment," again according to the senior Hamas official from the Gaza Strip. Hamas was particularly disappointed with the way the Egyptians responded to its reservations, he said. "Egypt appears to have endorsed the Israeli position. We were hoping that Egypt would be on our side because we were the first to accept the truce initiative," he said. Israel's refusal to reopen the border crossings to the Gaza Strip and halt all military operations against the Palestinian factions immediately after a truce is declared remained the "major obstacle" to a deal, the official said. Suleiman reportedly told the Hamas delegation that Cairo supported Israel's demand that the Rafah border crossing be reopened under the terms of the 2005 US-brokered agreement that gave forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas exclusive control over the terminal on the Sinai-Gaza border. The agreement also called for deploying EU monitors at the border crossing. "All the border crossings should be reopened on the same day as the truce goes into effect," another Hamas official told the Post. "There's no reason why Israel should not lift the siege, reopen all the border crossings and stop all its [military] operations immediately after the truce." The senior Hamas official pointed out that Israel had made it clear to the Egyptians that it would halt its military operations only "days" after a cease-fire went into effect and after making sure that Hamas was abiding by its terms. He said that with regards to the border crossings, Israel had made it clear that they would be reopened only at a much later stage and after receiving guarantees that Hamas representatives would play no role in running them. Sources close to Hamas said the movement also rejected Israel's demand that it act against the smuggling of arms through tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt. Suleiman warned the Hamas leaders that by rejecting the truce initiative they were providing Israel with a good excuse to "invade" the Gaza Strip, the sources said. He is also reported to have warned them that the entire Hamas leadership would be wiped out if Israel launched a massive military offensive on the Gaza Strip to halt the rocket attacks. While Hamas leaders talked in private about the failure of the truce talks, those who went on the record Thursday sounded more cautious in an apparent attempt to avoid alienating the Egyptians. Khalil al-Hayeh, a Hamas official who participated in the Cairo talks, said upon returning to the Gaza Strip that the Islamist group was waiting for further details from the Egyptians on Israel's position. "It's premature to say that the talks have failed," he said. "We received Israel's response to the Egyptian initiative and, in turn, we asked the Egyptians for further clarifications. We are hoping to receive answers next week."