Israeli officials back Hamas truce-Another Senior Israeli Official Would Support Truce With Hamas
IAN DEITCH AP News Dec 22, 2007 18:29 EST
Another high-ranking Israeli official said Saturday that he would support a conditional cease-fire with Hamas if the Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip halts rocket fire into Israel. Cabinet Minister Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security agency, added his voice in favor of the proposal. Israeli infrastructure minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, said Friday that he also favored a conditional cease-fire with Hamas, becoming the highest-ranking official to welcome the militant group's proposal. Ben-Eliezer said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may consider discussing a long-term cease-fire with Hamas if the group stops smuggling arms into Gaza and negotiates the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-affiliated militants last year. The Palestinian group first floated the idea of a truce in a phone call to an Israeli TV reporter Tuesday from Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Hamas government in Gaza. The proposal was officially made Thursday though Egyptian mediators. Previous truces have been negotiated through Egyptian mediation, but none have held for long. Israel's official position is that it will not talk with Hamas unless the group renounces all violence, recognizes Israel's right to exist and accepts previous peace agreements. Olmert's office reiterated that stance Friday. But Israeli defense officials said Friday that the government was examining the Hamas offer. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. Hamas seized control of Gaza by force in June and has been largely isolated since then. An international boycott has put the Hamas government under tremendous pressure, with the coastal strip closed off from the rest of the world and facing severe shortages of basic goods, a 50 percent unemployment rate and a halt to almost all imports and exports. Palestinian militants fire almost daily rocket barrages at communities in southern Israel and the army has struck back hard, killing 20 Gaza militants in airstrikes and ground operations in the past week. Also on Saturday, Hamas denied Israeli media reports that it was drafting terms for a temporary cease-fire while trying to gain support from other Palestinian factions to accept it. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said the reports of a truce draft were "untrue."
"There is continuous Israeli aggression, and there is resistance. The ball is still in Israel's court," he said. "It is up to (Israel) because when they stop all their aggressions we will then discuss the issue." A senior member of Islamic Jihad said there has been no discussion between his group and Hamas about a truce. "We don't think the priority should be talking about a truce," said Islamic Jihad's Nafez Azzam. "Talking about a truce should be directed first to the party that continues the killing and airstrikes. Truce is not on the table now in light of the Israeli aggression." Islamic Jihad is responsible for most of the rockets that have disrupted life in southern Israel. Amos Gilad, head of the political department at Israel's defense ministry, said Saturday that Hamas has no real intention of honoring a truce, and is merely seeking a temporary cease-fire in order to regroup and rearm. Gilad said Israel will press ahead in its fight against militants as long as rocket fire persists. "From time to time, they offer a halt in operations when they have suffered a serious or significant blow," Gilad told Israel Radio. "They have no intentions of a real truce," he said. Ribhi Rantisi, a Hamas activist in Gaza, told Channel 1 TV Hamas does want a truce. "We are interested in a cease-fire," he said. "We are not begging for it."