Return to story

Israel, Hamas truce not near

November 20, 2012 12:10 am

BY IBRAHIM BARZAK and KARIN LAUB

BY IBRAHIM BARZAK and KARIN LAUB

Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

--Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers traded fire and tough cease-fire proposals Monday, and threatened to escalate their border conflict if diplomacy fails. No deal appeared near.

An Israeli airstrike targeting a Gaza media center killed a senior militant and engulfed the building in flames, while Gaza fighters fired 95 rockets at Israel, nearly one-third of them intercepted by an Israeli missile shield.

The number of people killed in Gaza since the start of Israel's offensive rose to 109 on Monday, including 56 civilians. Some 840 people have been wounded, including 225 children, Gaza health officials said. Three Israeli civilians have been killed and dozens have been wounded.

Over the weekend, civilian casualties in Gaza rose sharply after Israel began targeting the homes of what it said were suspected militants. Two such strikes late Monday killed five people--a father and his 4-year-old twin sons in northern Gaza and two people in the south, medics said.

Egyptian intelligence officials met separately in Cairo with an Israeli envoy and with Khaled Mashaal, the top Hamas leader in exile.

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in the territory ever since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza.

With positions far apart on a comprehensive deal, some close to the negotiations suggested Egypt is first seeking a halt to fighting before other conditions are discussed.

Mashaal told reporters that Hamas would agree to a cease-fire only if its demands are met. "We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor," he said. "We want a cease-fire along with meeting our demands."

Mashaal also suggested that Israel's threat of invading Gaza was a ploy. He said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "is waving the threat of a ground offensive and asking the world to pressure Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, so they pressure Hamas."

Israeli leaders have repeatedly threatened to widen the offensive, saying an invasion is an option. Israel has amassed troops on the Gaza border and begun calling up thousands of reservists.

As part of global efforts to end the Gaza fighting, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo on Monday and was to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres today.

Hamas, an offshoot of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, is negotiating from a stronger position than four years ago, when Israel launched a three-week war on the militants in Gaza. At that time, Hamas was internationally isolated; now, the Muslim Brotherhood is in power in Egypt and Tunisia, and Hamas is also getting political support from Qatar and Turkey.

President Barack Obama and other Western leaders have blamed Hamas for the latest outbreak of fighting, saying Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks. However, they also warned Israel against sending ground troops into Gaza.

The two sides have observed informal cease-fires over the years, interrupted by flare-ups of violence.

Hamas has fired more than 1,000 rockets at Israel since the start of the latest offensive on Wednesday, kicked off by Israel's assassination of the Hamas military chief.

Of the 95 rockets fired Monday, 29 of them were intercepted by Israel's U.S.-financed Iron Dome anti-missile battery, officials said.

In Gaza, an Israeli airstrike on a high-rise building in Gaza City killed Ramez Harb, a senior figure in Islamic Jihad's military wing, the Al Quds Brigades, the group said.

A number of foreign and local news organizations have offices in the building, which was also struck on Sunday. A passer-by, a carpenter from Gaza's tiny Christian community, was also killed, medics said.

And in central Gaza, four militants were killed in two separate strikes.

In the West Bank, Palestinian stone throwers protesting against Israel's Gaza campaign clashed with Israeli soldiers in several locations Monday. In the city of Hebron, a 22-year-old man was killed by army fire and three other protesters were injured, doctors said.

The army said soldiers opened fire after a masked man approached them and failed to stop.





Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.