Stop shooting, says UN chief, then get a Gaza cease-fire deal

Palestinian disunity could be a sticking point in cease-fire negotiations.

Jerry Lampen/Reuters
Israel unleashed its heaviest shelling of Gaza neighborhoods on Thursday in what might be a final push against Hamas before a cease-fire, and Washington promised security guarantees that could bring a deal closer.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called for an immediate halt to the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Then the "technical issues" - i.e. who polices the smuggling of weapons into Gaza - of an enduring cease-fire could be worked out, he told reporters in Jerusalem Thursday evening.

It's been a long day for the UN chief.

Israel moved deeper into Gaza Thursday, shelling the United Nations headquarters and destroying thousands of pounds of humanitarian supplies. With the death toll above 1,000 and growing, Israel has inflicted serious damage in its attempt to stop Hamas from firing rockets into it's territory.

But another potential obstacle to Gaza peace is the division between Hamas, which runs Gaza, and Fatah, which runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Should Israel give the nod to any of the current efforts toward a truce, this inter-Palestinian conflict could become a major sticking point – especially over who will control the border between Gaza and Egypt.

Weapons smuggling through Gaza tunnels
Control of that border is a key issue for Israel, which is concerned about weapons being smuggled through the network of narrow tunnels that enable Palestinians to circumvent Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza.

Last January, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah Party, flatly refused to work with Hamas to secure the Gaza-Egypt border.

Israel prefers Fatah as a partner, but Hamas has had control of the territory since Fatah was forced out in 2007 amid extensive inter-Palestinian violence.

(Israel backed Fatah in the battle for Gaza after it withdrew its troops for the first time since 1967.)

Yesterday, the Monitor’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Ilene Prusher, wrote about the widening split between Fatah and Hamas over how to respond to Israel’s offensive.

Israel divided, too
But Israel is also divided, with several presidential candidates jockeying for leverage ahead of early elections.

The good news is that Israel and Hamas are both making noise about warming to a possible cease-fire. Ban Ki Moon says that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told him Thursday that "that they were they were going very close to a conclusion, to a ceasefire."

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