Hamas, Israel reveal contradicting positions on ceasefire extensions

Bassem Aly , Thursday 7 Aug 2014

Divisions between Hamas and Israel, lead to confusion over ceasefire renewal

Abu Marzouk
Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Gaza City, Tuesday, June 10, 2014 (Photo: AP)

As the 72-hour ceasefire approaches its expiration at 0500 GMT on Friday, Israel and Hamas appear to be out of sync with regards to its extension.

An Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Tel Aviv has agreed to extend the ceasefire beyond Friday's deadline, Reuters reported.

He, nevertheless, did not mention how much longer Israel has agreed to extend the truce. "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms,” the official was quoted as saying.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, the Cairo-based deputy of Hamas' political bureau, tweeted late Wednesday that there is no deal over extending the truce after Hamas had no immediate comment on Israel's contradictory announcement.

Azzam Al-Ahmed, a leading figure of Fatah, said that "nothing new happened" over renewing the truce, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency reported Thursday morning.  

Al-Ahmed is the head of the delegation currently in Cairo, of which Abu Marzouk is also a member.

Egypt mediated a 72-hour truce on Tuesday between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian factions that officials hope will lead to additional talks and a lasting end to the Gaza war.

Israeli ground forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip ahead of the truce, with a military spokesperson saying the main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels had been achieved, Reuters reported.

The Israeli war on Gaza has led to the death of 1,875 Palestinians since it began on 8 July. On the Israeli side 64 soldiers and three civilians have been killed in clashes and shelling in and around the enclave.

Maintaining diplomacy

A number of diplomatic moves took place throughout the last few days, mainly via the indirect Cairo-brokered talks between the Palestinian and Israeli delegations to finalise a political deal to end the month-long offensive on the strip.

The US State Department stated that a special envoy to the negotiations, Frank Lowenstein, has arrived in Cairo.

Sources told Ahram Online last Monday that top US negotiator William Burns has decided to cancel a trip to Cairo.

He was expected to arrive late Sunday to join a visiting US team that is helping Egyptian officials reach a truce between Israel and Palestinian factions. "We are not informed of a new date. It all depends on how things go," the source said.

US President Barack Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave two almost identical statements which called for a greater role by the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel was cooperating with the Palestinian Authority – especially in terms of reconstructing the war-torn enclave – and that it was important the PA had a role to play in the Gaza Strip.

He also blamed Hamas for civilian casualties and destruction in Gaza. "Every civilian casualty is a tragedy, a tragedy of Hamas's own making," he added.

For Obama, he said that peace efforts require the involvement of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"I think Abu Mazen [Abbas] is sincere in his desire for peace, but they (the Palestinian Authority) have also been weakened, I think, during this process" noted Obama.

In a related context, a German diplomatic source told Reuters that Germany, France and Britain have suggested re-activating an EU mission at the Rafah crossing – located on the Egypt-Gaza border  to assist in stabilising Gaza.

Known as the EU Border Assistance Mission in Rafah, the mission started work in 2005 to monitor the crossing point as part of an accord worked out by Israel and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

The operation was halted two years later when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip.

Tough talks

For the second time in one week, Egypt's intelligence chief Mohamed Farid El-Tohamy met Wednesday with the Palestinian delegation in Cairo as part of the continued effort to push for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza Strip.

Tohamy spoke with Azzam Al-Ahmed, a leading figure of Fatah and head of the delegation, about the Cairo's endeavors to achieve Palestinian demands, Egypt's state-owned news agency MENA reported.

On Monday, the Palestinian delegation officially presented its demands for a permanent ceasefire including an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, halting airstrikes, lifting the Israeli blockade on the coastal strip and releasing Palestinian prisoners.

Members of the Palestinian delegation currently in Cairo are Azzam Al-Ahmed of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Ezzat Al-Rashq, Mohamed Nasr and Mousa Abou Marzouk of Hamas, Ziyad Nakhala of Islamic Jihad, Quis Abdel-Kareem of the Democratic Front, Maher Al-Taher of the Popular Front and Bassam Al-Salehi of the People's Party and Maged Farag, head of Palestinian intelligence.

An informed source told Ahram Online late on Tuesday that Israel's delegation has arrived in Cairo for indirect negotiations with Palestinian factions under Egypt's sponsorship.

The delegation is comprised of three negotiators: Isaac Molha, adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yoram Cohen, chief of Shin Bet security agency and Amos Gilad, head of the political bureau at the defence ministry.

So far, no positive outcomes have been reached, though truce negotiations have not been halted.

Ezzat Al-Rasheq, a leading Hamas figure, refused on Wednesday to ‘even listen’ to the Israeli demand of disarming the Palestinian factions in Gaza.

"As a delegation, we don't accept even listening to any suggestions in such aspect, and whoever [Israel] thinks he won the battle is wrong; the Palestinian people are the victors," AFP quoted Al-Rasheq as saying. 

"Israel accepted the truce and withdrawal of its occupation forces from Gaza because they reached a dead-end; despite the pain, sacrifices, and patience, we emphasise the support of our people for resistance."

Israel demands that Hamas, regarded by Tel Aviv and Washington as a terrorist group, disarm its armed group during the ongoing Cairo talks for ceasefire in Gaza.

The Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, asserted on Tuesday that "chapters of the battle against the Israeli entity" will resume until Israel admits the rights of the Palestinians and their "just demands.”

"The attitude of the enemy [Israel] will determine the path of the combat and its end result; our orientations in the next few days will be conditioned with achieving the hopes of our people, who we will not ignore," emphasised the Islamist group.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Israel's Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz warned that "we will not hesitate to continue to use our force" wherever necessary and with whatever force required to ensure the "security of Israeli citizens near and far."

Arab League chief Nabil Al-Arabi said that a delegation of Arab foreign ministers will visit Gaza "soon" to express support to the Palestinians and assess reconstruction needs in the strip.

Expected to expand – according to AFP – the delegation currently includes of Egypt, Kuwait Jordan and Morocco.

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