Hamas threatens war of attrition if terms not met

Attack tunnels will be ‘strategic threat’ to Israel, says terror group official; talks set to resume Sunday as Cairo says it won’t amend its proposal

Soldiers from the Givati Brigade seen at the entrance to a Hamas attack tunnel on July 23, 2014, during Operation Protective Edge. (Israel Defense Forces/Flash90)
Soldiers from the Givati Brigade seen at the entrance to a Hamas attack tunnel on July 23, 2014, during Operation Protective Edge. (Israel Defense Forces/Flash90)

A Hamas official on Saturday threatened Israel with a prolonged war of attrition if the group’s terms for a permanent ceasefire agreement, currently being negotiated in indirect talks in Cairo, are not met.

The Israelis have two choices: accept our demands, or prepare for a war of attrition with us, Hamas senior official Osama Hamdan said, according to Israel Radio.

Hamdan, who was in Sudan Saturday, also warned that the terror group’s tunnels will be a “strategic threat” to Israel and its rockets will be more precise “next time.”

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad representatives in the Palestinian delegation to the Cairo talks for a permanent ceasefire said the proposals they had received, including the 11-point Egyptian offer submitted Friday, did not meet the needs of the Palestinian people.

A Lebanon-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad official said Saturday that it was better to return to the Gaza Strip without a deal than to sign a humiliating document.

Nonetheless, this official said that Egypt would be given enough time to successfully negotiate a permanent ceasefire, Israel Radio reported.

But Egypt said Saturday it would not submit any more ceasefire proposals to either side, Israel Radio reported.

Bassam al-Salahi, another member of the Palestinian delegation in Cairo, said progress was being but that the chances of reaching a deal were no higher than 50 percent.

Salahi said the Palestinians were prepared to postpone talks on building a seaport and airport in the Gaza Strip — key Hamas demands — but only by a few weeks.

Azzam al-Ahmad, who heads the Palestinian delegation at Cairo talks, said on Saturday he was quietly optimistic that an agreement for a longer-term truce could be reached.

“We have high hopes of reaching an agreement very soon, before the end of the truce, and perhaps even, very quickly, for a permanent ceasefire,” he said.

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri struck a hardline, insisting that there can be no long-term calm without a lifting of Israel’s blockade on the coastal enclave, which it imposed in cooperation with Egypt in 2007 in large part to prevent Hamas from importing weaponry after it violently took control of the Gaza Strip.

“We can reach an agreement if the Israeli side accepts all the demands of the unified Palestinian delegation, in particular the end of any aggression against our people, the war on Gaza and the complete lifting of the siege,” Abu Zuhri said.

Both sides are currently observing a five-day ceasefire, with indirect talks set to resume on Sunday.

Egypt reportedly submitted an 11-point proposal that was leaked to the press Friday and is being considered by the Gaza-based groups.

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.

A buffer zone along Gaza’s border with Israel would be gradually reduced and guarded by Palestinian Authority security teams.

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.

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.

“A return to the status quo prior to the latest conflict is not an option,” said the Council of the EU on Friday following a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

It said EU police would monitor the transit of supplies needed for Gaza reconstruction and try to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the territory.

A mission of 70 European police officers was set up at the crossing point in 2005, tasked with monitoring movements of people, goods and vehicles at Gaza’s only window to the outside world that bypasses Israel.

But it was suspended two years later after Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip.

The EU 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. It has repeatedly demanded that Hamas be disarmed, or at the very least, be prevented from re-arming.

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