Will all Palestinian factions honor Hamas's cease-fire?
Hamas may not be able to prevent other factions from attacking Israel, analysts say.
Damascus, Syria — The rockets fired by Palestinian militants into southern Israel throughout the 22-day war in Gaza and in the weeks leading up to the devastating Israeli operation have stopped. The cease-fire declared by Hamas is holding.
But while the Hamas movement and its weapons caches were Israel's primary target throughout the offensive, numerous militant groups fought alongside Hamas against Israeli soldiers, including a splinter faction of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of the Fatah Party, according to a senior Fatah official in Damascus.
The question now is whether these groups, who are often at odds with Hamas over how to carry out Palestinian resistance, will adhere to Hamas's decision to hold its fire or continue to shoot rockets into southern Israel and perhaps spark another round of fighting.
On Sunday, the deputy of Hamas's political bureau, Musa Abu Marzuq, appeared on Syrian television, speaking not in the name of Hamas, but "in the name of Palestinian resistance factions" to declare a one-week cease-fire and insist that all Israeli troops leave within that time period and open all border crossings.
But some Middle East analysts say Hamas might not be able to hold together an alliance of such disparate and mutually hostile groups. One faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), has already dissented.
Maher Taher, PFLP's representative in Damascus, where much of the Palestinian leadership structure is based, declined to comment on their decision, but in an interview with Al Jazeera, he insisted "The Israeli attack is continuing."
"The PFLP is fighting on the ground against this barbaric invasion by Israel," he said in the interview last week, before the cease-fire. "This is a battle involving all of the Palestinian people."
Last week, several other Palestinian factions in Damascus issued a statement refusing "any security arrangements that affect the resistance and its legitimate right to struggle against the occupation." The coalition was composed of representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, Al Saiqa, the Popular Struggle Front, the Revolutionary Communist Party, Palestinian Liberation organization, Fatah's "Intifada" faction, and a number of other Palestinian factions.
They categorically refused the presence of international forces in Gaza, a proposition put forth in part by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. They said that any peace initiatives must include the immediate secession of Israeli attacks, the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, an end to the economic blockade, and an opening of all of Gaza's crossings, including the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
Some regional observers say there are two probable outcomes, neither of which bode well for Israel. Either factions continue to stand behind Hamas, bolstering the group's legitimacy in Gaza, or they break away and start launching rockets in violation of cease-fires.
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) sources say some 750 rockets were shot into Israel (more than 200 of those were claimed by Islamic Jihad) since "Operation Cast Lead" began on Dec. 27, killing three civilians. The IDF says it killed hundreds of militants, most of whom were probably members of Hamas, the largest group in Gaza, but that number undoubtedly includes members of other militias.
Leaders of the secular Fatah Party that controls the PA say the group bears no responsibility for its members in the armed wing fighting in Gaza, according to the group's representative in Damascus, Sameer Rifai. He says that a faction of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades has been acting without the consent of the leadership, but adds that they were engaged in a "legitimate form of defense."
"The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are a part of the Palestinian people in Gaza," he says. "They are defending their homes, their lives, and themselves. They are people fighting an occupation."