Hamas proposes 1-year cease-fire

Group: Agreement would be conditional on the opening of Gaza crossings; says no to longer truce.

hamas gaza badass 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas gaza badass 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas is prepared to reach a one-year truce with Israel if the border crossings into the Gaza Strip are opened, Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri said on Sunday. He said that a Hamas delegation currently holding talks in Cairo with Egyptian government officials made it clear that the movement would not agree to a long-term or permanent truce. In Cairo, Ayman Taha, a member of the Hamas team, said after meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman that Hamas rejected an Israeli offer for an 18-month truce. He said the offer had been relayed to Hamas through Suleiman and other Egyptian officials. "Hamas has proposed a one-year truce that would be evaluated [by Hamas] when it expires," Masri said. "We are talking about a temporary truce that would be contingent on the reopening of all the border crossings, including the Rafah terminal, and lifting the blockade." A permanent truce would "contradict Hamas's right to pursue the resistance for as long as the occupation exists," he said. The Hamas delegation also expressed the movement's readiness to accept the presence of European and Turkish forces at the border crossings, Masri said, pointing out that Hamas remained opposed to the deployment of international troops inside Gaza. "Any foreign troops in the Gaza Strip would be regarded as an occupation force," he said. "But to ensure that the border crossings are reopened, we suggested that they be placed under the supervision of international monitors. We don't want the border crossings to remain at the mercy of the Israelis or any other party." One Israeli defense official said Jerusalem was considering linking the opening of the Gaza crossings with the negotiations for the release of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit. "The operation has created new understandings between us and Hamas," one Israeli official explained. "Hamas knows that if it renews attacks we will not be restrained." However, Masri said the truce issue had nothing to do with Schalit. "The Israeli soldier is not linked in any way to the issue of the truce or the border crossings," he said. "Rather, the case of the soldier is connected to a future prisoner exchange. No one should dream that Schalit will see his family if the border crossings aren't reopened." However, according to Palestinian sources quoted in the London-based pan-Arab daily A-Sharq al-Awsat, considerable progress has been made toward a deal to free Schalit, which could go through within three weeks if Israel changes its position on freeing prisoners with "blood on their hands." Meanwhile, the IDF is maintaining a high-level of alert along the Gaza border and is bracing for the possibility that Hamas will renew rocket attacks against the South in the near future. Last week, Hamas said that if Israel did not open the crossings to all goods and not just humanitarian supplies, it would renew Kassam and Katyusha attacks on Israel. IDF sources downplayed the significance of Hamas's threat but said that large forces were deployed along the border and were "prepared for any development." If Hamas kept quiet, Israel did not plan to renew attacks against the terrorist organization's leadership or infrastructure, they said. If the group renewed its attacks, the IDF had permission from the political echelon to respond strongly, including with targeted killings of Hamas leaders. Breaking from that position, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a member of the security cabinet, said on Sunday that as long as Schalit was in captivity, Israel would not allow Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to emerge from his hiding place. Defense officials predicted that Hamas would maintain the "security calm" and prefer to exhaust the Egyptian mediation efforts before resorting to violence. Reuters reported Sunday night that Egypt suddenly evacuated its personnel from the Rafah border crossing with Gaza fearing a possible Israeli air strike on the Palestinian side of the crossing, Egyptian security sources said. The talks between Hamas and Egypt in Cairo are focusing on three issues: the truce with Israel, halting weapons smuggling into Gaza and reopening the border crossings. A Hamas official in the Strip said the Egyptians were trying to persuade the movement to accept a long-term cease-fire with Israel. "The Egyptians have endorsed the Israeli demand, namely that the truce be open-ended," he said. "Our position is that the truce should not last more than a year." The Hamas official said that his movement could not promise to stop smuggling weapons "because we are a liberation movement that is fighting against the occupation." He added that as far as Hamas was concerned, the issue of arms smuggling was an Egyptian problem, and not Hamas's. "Hamas isn't smuggling weapons into Egypt," he said. "The smuggling is occurring on Egyptian soil. This is not the responsibility of Hamas or of any other Palestinian faction." Regarding the border crossings, the Hamas official explained, his movement insists on participating in their management along with Turkish and European monitors. He noted that the Egyptians were demanding that the Rafah border crossing be handed over to forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Sunday's cabinet meeting the Egyptians were working to prevent the smuggling of large amounts of arms presently in Sinai into the Gaza Strip. Barak's comments were part of a briefing he gave the cabinet on Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad's trip to Cairo on Thursday to discuss the smuggling issue. The matter was expected to be a top priority in talks on Sunday night in Brussels between the EU's foreign ministers and their counterparts from Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and the PA. The meeting follows a session last week with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The ministers are expected to discuss what incentives might be offered to Egypt to get it to impose tough measures to fight the smuggling. The EU is eager to offer monitors, ships and radar equipment to help secure Gaza's borders and halt the smuggling of weapons, while Egypt has said it would not let foreign troops on its territory. The German press reported on Sunday that the EU ministers are expected to issue a "non-paper" Monday on Gaza that will deal with both the smuggling and how to channel aid into Gaza. A German Interior Ministry representative confirmed that Berlin was prepared to provide "technical know-how from federal police experts" on border control to stop the smuggling between Sinai and Gaza, adding that the Germans were "waiting for the request from the Egyptian side." Barak told the cabinet meeting that Operation Cast Lead achieved all its objectives, namely the worst blow delivered to Hamas since its establishment; creating deterrence against Hamas, evident by the fact that since the IDF fully withdrew from Gaza on Tuesday, not one rocket has fallen on Israel; enhancement of Israel's deterrence against other players in the "radical axis"; and mobilization of Egypt, the US and the EU to fight the smuggling of arms into Gaza. Furthermore, the operation has strengthened public confidence in the IDF, the state and its institutions, he said. Barak said Israel's hope was that humanitarian aid would be funneled through the PA, and that contacts were under way to make this possible. The EU was also expected to address this issue on Monday.