Hamas, Israel appear on brink of cease-fire
Hamas officials in Egypt Monday considered terms of a possible 'tahadiyeh,' or calming, in recent fighting with Israel even as violence flared on both sides of the border.
In what could be the first agreement between Israel and Hamas since its takeover of the Gaza Strip last year, the two sides are believed to be on the verge of an informal pact to halt cross-border attacks and lift the economic siege on the 1.4 million Palestinians in the coastal enclave.Skip to next paragraph
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Egyptian mediators met with Hamas officials in Cairo Tuesday to get the Islamist militants' response to a proposal on a tahadiyeh, Arabic for relaxation, discussed with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak earlier this week.
The talks have been accompanied by a chorus of warnings by Israeli officials that a broad military incursion is only a matter of time, reinforcing speculation in Gaza and in Israel that any agreement is doomed to be a temporary timeout from fighting.
"The clock is ticking and time is running out, because the current situation cannot continue," says Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "Either it will stop and a calm will be achieved through the Egyptian channel, or the government will instruct the military to bring about an end to these hostile attacks."
On Wednesday, fighting continued with Israeli forces killing three Palestinians in Gaza, including a 13-year-old boy and two militants. Two rockets, fired from Gaza, landed in the southern Israel town of Sderot.
Indeed, any agreement is expected to be extremely fragile.
In addition to a cessation of all rocket, mortar, and sniper attacks from Gaza, Israel is conditioning the calm on what would be an unprecedented halt to weapons smuggling and the movement of militants across Gaza's border into Egypt.
Israel says it is worried that the Islamic militants will use the lull as an opportunity to stockpile missiles and to sneak in field commanders trained outside of Gaza. It is unclear what new mechanisms might be put into place to halt smuggling.
Hamas will for the first time face confronting independent militias that could use Israeli offensives in the West Bank as a pretext to launching attacks from Gaza. Over the course of the cease-fire talks, Hamas dropped a demand that the relaxation in hostilities include the West Bank.
"Islamic Jihad is not convinced that they must observe a calm in Gaza if there is aggression in the West Bank," says Talal Okal, a Gaza-based columnist for the Al Ayyam daily newspaper. "Many other groups like the Al Aqsa [Martyrs] Brigade don't have an interest in a [period of] clam," he added, referring to the militia linked to the rival Fatah Party.