Israel snubs Hamas offer of six-month Gaza truce

Israel on Friday dismissed a Hamas proposal for a six-month Gaza Strip truce during which an embargo on the territory would be lifted, saying the Palestinian Islamists wanted to prepare for more fighting rather than peace.

The Hamas offer, issued on Thursday following talks with Egyptian mediators, departed from previous demands by the group that any ceasefire apply simultaneously in Gaza and the occupied West Bank—the territories where Palestinians want statehood.

Israel has been reluctant to enter any formal agreement that could shore up the hard-line Islamists against their West Bank-based rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as he pursues United States-sponsored peace talks with the Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signalled flexibility last month by saying military attacks on Gaza would cease if its Hamas rulers stopped cross-border rocket salvoes.

“Israel is interested in peace. Unfortunately, Hamas is playing games. Hamas is biding time in order to rearm and regroup,” David Baker, an Olmert spokesperson, said on Friday.

“There would be no need for Israel’s defensive actions if Hamas would cease and desist from committing terrorist attacks on Israelis,” Baker said, in reference to Israeli air strikes and commando raids in Gaza.
“Israel will continue to act to protect its citizens.”

Hamas, which announced on Thursday that Egyptian mediator Omar Suleiman would discuss the Gaza truce idea with other Palestinian factions next week and then take it up with Israel, was unfazed by Baker’s comments.

“We still do not have a clear Israeli position. The ball is in the Occupation’s court,” Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said, using his group’s term for the Jewish state. “We are ready for all political and military choices to end the siege.”

Blockade linked to security

Israel pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but still controls major border crossings and has tightened this cordon since Hamas routed Abbas’s forces there in June.

Some Israeli officials have said the blockade aims both to pressure Hamas to stop rocket fire and, in the long run, to bring about the collapse of its rule over Gaza’s 1,5-million Palestinians, most of whom depend on foreign aid.

But Baker described the closures as a security concern—raising the possibility of a change in Israeli policy should there be a halt to hostilities by Hamas.

“The issue of the borders is subject to the prevailing security situation,” he said, without elaborating.

According to Hamas, should the proposed Gaza truce take hold, Egypt would work to extend it to the West Bank, where Israeli-Palestinian violence has persisted, albeit less intensively than in Gaza.

A Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli security guards on Friday at Netzanei Oz, an industrial zone on the West Bank boundary, the military said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility from any Palestinian faction.

Though Abbas has himself refused to talk to Hamas unless it first relinquishes Gaza, his administration voiced cautious support for the truce initiative.

“We hope that this proposal is a serious one, and we hope it will be taken seriously by Israel,” Abbas aide Nimer Hammad said.

Hamas’s founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel but the group has said it could agree to a long-term truce, perhaps within the framework of a peace deal signed by Abbas.—Reuters

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