Monday, December 15, 2008

Hamas refuses to renew Gaza truce

December 15, 2008

THE Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas which controls Gaza said overnight that a troubled Cairo-brokered truce with Israel will not be renewed when it runs out later this week.

But a spokesman for outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted his government remained keen to see the six-month-old truce extended beyond Thursday provided Hamas halted rocket and mortar fire against southern Israel.

"The truce was limited to six months and ends on December 19,'' Hamas political supremo Khaled Meshaal said in a television interview from Damascus with Hamas's Al-Quds satellite television.

"Given that the enemy is not respecting its commitments and the blockade is still in place against our people, for Hamas, and I think for the majority of forces, the truce ends after December 19 and will not be renewed,'' he said.

Meshaal's statement came on the day marking the 21st anniverary of the Islamist group's formation at the start of the first Palestinian uprising.

The ceasefire had already been marred by persistent tit-for-tat violence in recent weeks and Hamas complaints that Israel had failed to keep its side of the bargain by easing its crippling blockade of the aid-dependent Gaza Strip.

Senior Israeli defence ministry official Amos Gilad, who conducted the negotiations for the original truce that went into force on June 19, returned to Cairo on Sunday for talks with Egyptian mediators on an extension.

Neither he nor Egypt's pointman for the negotiations - intelligence chief Omar Suleiman - made any comment after their talks.

But the Israeli premier's spokesman Mark Regev later told AFP in Jerusalem: "Israel is interested in calm reigning in the south. It was and is still ready to respect the commitments obtained through the mediation of Egypt.''

Gilad -- a reserve major general and key aide of Defence Minister Ehud Barak -- has been an outspoken defender of the Gaza truce despite a flurry of cross-border violence since November 4 that has seen several cabinet ministers call for a major ground offensive.

"Experience shows that military operations don't always solve problems in the Middle East,'' he said last month. "You have to find the optimal solution. To date no appropriate military solution has been found for the Strip.''

But Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the Jewish state was determined to end the Hamas rule in Gaza.

"The state can and should provide an answer to the terror with its available military means. We can not allow Gaza to remain under the control of Hamas,'' Livni's office quoted her as saying in a statement.

Hamas had shown mounting frustration with the truce agreement since Israel sharply tightened its blockade of Gaza after last month's resurgence of violence.

For yesterday's anniversary, Hamas staged a show of strength, drawing huge crowds on to the streets of Gaza City that Hamas television said ran into the hundreds of thousands.

In an address to the crowds, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, boasted that US President George W. Bush's administration had failed to defeat his movement, which had only grown stronger.

"Bush declared war on the Palestinian people... He provided money and arms to the seditionists to wage a war against legality," Haniya said, referring to the deadly streetfighting with loyalists of Western-backed president Mahmud Abbas that preceded Hamas's takeover of Gaza in June 2007.

"Bush failed, we have not been overthrown," he said. And despite Israel's blockade, "Hamas is stronger and will remain stronger because it draws its strength from God"

Former US president Jimmy Carter met yesterday with Meshaal in Damascus for talks on the blockade, the truce, and Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who has been held hostage in Gaza for more than two years, Hamas said.

Two senior political officers of Hamas, Mussa Abu Marzuk and Mohammad Nasr, also took part in the meeting which lasted several hours.

Source: The Australian from Agence France-Presse


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