Hamas on Saturday night rejected an Egyptian proposal for a long-term ceasefire with Israel. Spokesman Osama Hamdan said Israel must either accepts its demands — including for a lifting of the security blockade on Gaza — or face “a war of attrition.” At the same time, Hamas’s military wing in Gaza declared, “We are continuing our struggle.”
Israel has not formally responded to the Egyptian proposal — an 11-point proposal that was leaked to the press Friday. Israel’s Channel 10 said, however, that Israel was not prepared to dilute its security demands as would be required under the Egyptian proposal.
The Egyptian proposal speaks of lifting the Israeli and Egyptian security blockade on Gaza, but any such easing of restrictions would apparently be overseen by Israeli and Egyptian forces on their sides of Gaza’s borders, and by the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas on the Gaza side. The PA would also play a dominant role in the reconstruction of post-conflict Gaza. The Egyptian formula also pushes off negotiations on the opening of a Gaza seaport and airport — key Hamas demands in recent weeks — to a month’s time.
Negotiations on the long-term deal, 40 days after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Hamas, were set to resume in Cairo on Sunday morning. It was not clear how Hamas’s declared rejection of the Egyptian terms would affect the planned resumption of talks. A five-day truce agreed by Hamas and Israel is to expire at midnight on Monday.
Abbas on Saturday publicly broke ranks with Hamas, declaring in Ramallah that there was no alternative but to “stick to” the Egyptian proposal.
Earlier, in Qatar, the Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal, declared that “The Palestinian people will continue their struggle until they end the occupation, the colonization and the siege [on Gaza].”
Mashaal said Hamas was not withdrawing any of its demands, and insisted on the full lifting of the blockade, and the establishment of a Gaza seaport and airport.
Spokesman Hamdan warned earlier that the terror group’s tunnels will be a “strategic threat” to Israel and its rockets will be more precise “next time.”
Israel’s security cabinet met on Friday, but did not release a formal response to the Egyptian proposals. An unnamed cabinet minister was quoted by Ynet late Saturday predicting the negotiations might collapse, and that it was possible that the sides would revert to “quiet in exchange for quiet” — that is, an informal ceasefire. The official said that the Israeli negotiation team will return to Cairo on Sunday — not Saturday as previously reported — to continue the talks.
Another Israeli official was quoted saying that the chances of reaching a long-term ceasefire deal by the end of Monday, when the current truce expires, were very faint. Consequently, he said, according to the Walla news site, the government is considering a unilateral move to ease some restrictions on access to the Gaza Strip and provide its residents with funds for rebuilding.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas in 2007, and maintain it in order to prevent Hamas importing more weaponry. Israel has pushed for Hamas to disarm and for a lifting of the blockade to be tied to the demilitarizing of Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US and others. Hamas has rejected the notion.
The first two clauses of the Egyptian proposal call for Israel as well as all Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip to mutually halt all cross border attacks — by land, air or sea. Construction of tunnels into Israel must be stopped at once, the Egyptian document also demands. Israel has repeatedly accepted previous Egyptian proposals for an unconditional ceasefire; Hamas has repeatedly rejected them.
Negotiations about handing over the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would also be postponed, according to the document.
The European Union on Friday said it was ready to expand a police mission in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, and train Palestinian Authority customs personnel and police for redeployment in Gaza.
The EU also said a durable ceasefire must be accompanied by lifting closures on Gaza and called on “all terrorist groups” in the territory to disarm. Israel welcomed that call.
Almost 2,000 people have been killed in Gaza in the past 40 days of fighting. Israel says 750-1,000 of the dead are Hamas and other gunmen. It also blames Hamas for all civilian fatalities, since Hamas set up its rocket-launchers, tunnel openings and other elements of its war machine in Gaza neighborhoods and uses Gazans as “human shields.”
Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians in the fighting. Eleven of the soldiers were killed by Hamas gunmen emerging from cross-border tunnels dug under the Israeli border. Hamas has fired over 3,000 rockets at Israel, including some 600 from close to schools, mosques and other civilian facilities, the Israeli army says.
AFP and AP contributed to this report.