New Gaza tragedy threatens Cairo truce talks
Palestinian officials met in Egypt Tuesday to hammer out possible terms for a six-month truce between the Islamist militants and Israel.
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"Aren't children being hurt here?" Mr. Sheetrit asked. "We are at war and have no other way but to fight Hamas. I object to a cease-fire with Hamas which will allow them to continue smuggling weapons."Skip to next paragraph
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Part of the difficulty in reaching a cease-fire lies in the deep rifts that now exist in the Palestinian political arena, dividing the Hamas-controlled Gaza from the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. One of the demands that Hamas is making as a condition of a cease-fire, says an official trying to mediate between the two warring Palestinian movements, is that Israel agree to open all the crossings into Gaza, especially the Rafah Crossing with Egypt. But the official, who asked not to be named, acknowledged that Israel is not likely to agree to such a scenario without the involvement of the PA and the security forces loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Another way in which the Fatah-Hamas split encumbers a deal with Israel for any kind of a truce is the question of whether a cease-fire would apply to the West Bank. Hamas has said in the past year that some of its Qassam rocket attacks on Israel were in retaliation for IDF incursions and arrests of Palestinians in the West Bank. This would indicate that Hamas views any kind of IDF action, be it in Gaza or the West Bank, as a provocation and a legitimate reason for retaliation.
The Israeli military, on the other hand, has shown an unwillingness to agree to stop its operations in the West Bank, believing that to do so would allow Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and even PLO-affiliated militant groups to flourish.
Despite the violence, each side seems primarily concerned with not forfeiting or even hampering what they see as their legitimate military option, be it "resistance" in Palestinian parlance or "deterrence" in Israel's.
"I don't think we can talk seriously about a truce or opening the crossings without a Palestinian national reconciliation deal, and I don't see that happening right way, " says Ziad Abu Amar, a Palestinian political analyst and former cabinet minister in Gaza.
"In the absence of a more comprehensive agreement of national reconciliation, the risk of having such a deal collapse remains higher. In order for it to succeed, it needs to be built on national reconciliation," says Dr. Abu Amar. "But it's too complicated to include all these issues, ending the siege and agreeing to the truce, without involving the PA in Ramallah and Abbas. And if this is the case, we're back to Square One."
All of which is pointing in the direction of a less-than-ideal month of May, when President Bush and other world leaders are due in Israel to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the country's independence.
Mr. Bush is due to visit Israel in mid-May and his administration has been pushing to have a cease-fire in place in advance of his visit. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives here later this week in attempt to pave the way for the visit and revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts.