Jerusalem scoffs at Gaza ‘truce’ rumours

By Eric Silver, April 25, 2008

Israel is setting tough conditions for a truce with Hamas. Arab media reported this week that Egypt had brokered a deal, which was being studied by the Hamas leadership in Gaza and Damascus.

Although the Israeli Defence Ministry has been involved indirectly, Jerusalem sources remained sceptical about the outcome.

A well-placed official spelled out Israel’s terms for the JC. “Hamas would have to agree to end all rocket launches from Gaza, by its own fighters or those of any other hostile force, such as Islamic Jihad,” he said. “They control Gaza.”

Secondly, he added, there had to be an end to all Hamas terror attacks. “You can’t have people in Gaza giving orders to attack in Jerusalem or other places.”

And thirdly, they had to stop smuggling arms into Gaza from Egypt or the sea. Israel did not want a replica of the situation in Lebanon, where Hizbollah has rearmed since the 2006 war.

“Are Hamas ready for a ceasefire that is acceptable to us?” the official asked. “I see no indication that they would accept these benchmarks.”

Earlier this week, Hamas political leader Khaled Mashal rejected an appeal from former US President Jimmy Carter for a unilateral truce, but some Israeli commentators believe Hamas may yet declare a pause. It is anxious to end the economic siege on Gaza and to complete an exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Corporal Gilad Shalit, captured two years ago.

Israeli and American diplomats poured cold water on a claim by Mr Carter that Hamas was prepared to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and live in peace with the Jewish state.

In a subsequent press conference in Damascus, Mr Mashal reiterated the Islamic movement’s refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist, demanding a total withdrawal from the West Bank and an absolute “right of return” for Palestinian refugees .

Israeli negotiators want to retain some settlement blocks in exchange for territory. They have insisted that the refugee problem has to be solved within a Palestinian state.

Last updated: 4:10pm, April 24 2008