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Militant Hamas as reluctant moderator

Can Gaza's ruling militants keep other armed groups from spoiling a six-month cease-fire with Israel intended to improve life in the impoverished coastal strip?

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 27, 2008

Islamic Jihad: Members of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad seen in the Gaza Strip on June 19, the day an Egyptian-brokered Hamas-Israel truce went into effect.

Ashraf Amra/AP



Hamas, which for more than 20 years has been the Palestinian militant movement that most fervently rejected peace with Israel, today finds itself in the odd position of being the group trying to get its comrades in arms to hold their fire against the Jewish state.

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But the week-old truce – agreed upon between Israel and Hamas and contingent on Gaza's disparate armed factions keeping their guns quiet – looked closer to crumbling Thursday after militants again fired rockets into southern Israel. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade struck Thursday two days after an attack by another group, Islamic Jihad.

In response, Israel has kept its crossings with the Gaza Strip shut, which it had opened to allow in much-needed goods, indicating that both sides were reneging on promises made in the Egyptian-brokered deal.

Late Wednesday night, leading Hamas official Siad Siyam gathered members of all the different militant factions at the Interior Ministry in Gaza, Palestinian sources say, and tried to impress upon them the need to keep the truce – or face more serious consequences.

But it's unclear just how far Hamas can – or will – go to stop the rockets from flying over the border and maintain the shaky truce, which skeptics on both sides say will soon unravel.

While Hamas says it is committed to the cease-fire, it will not act as a "police force" or otherwise stand in the way of other militant groups from acting against Israel. In a statement after Islamic Jihad's rockets fell on Israel – hours after a series of Israeli offensives in the West Bank – Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya said that Hamas would not act as enforcer.

"Even if there is a violation by some factions, Hamas emphasizes its commitment to the calm and is working to implement the calm," said Mr. Haya, according to the Associated Press. "But Hamas is not going to be a police securing the border of the occupation," he added. "No one will enjoy a happy moment seeing Hamas holding a rifle in the face of a resistance fighter."

After Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, broke the cease-fire with two rockets fired at Sderot, the group said the cease-fire must also include the West Bank.

"Any deal for calm must end Israeli attacks on our people in the West Bank, too," said Abu Qusai, spokesman for Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas official, acknowledges that some of the other militant groups in Gaza do not want to take marching orders from Hamas, and want to scuttle the cease-fire deal that has been months in the making, with the help of Egyptian mediation.