Senior Hamas official: Ceasefire can be reached within ‘one or two days’

Moussa Abu Marzouk says he believes end to hostilities is possible by Friday, but terror group will continue ‘bombardment for bombardment, escalation for escalation’ policy

Rockets are launched by Palestinian terror groups into Israel, amid Israeli-Palestinian fighting. in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Rockets are launched by Palestinian terror groups into Israel, amid Israeli-Palestinian fighting. in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Hamas terror group could reach a ceasefire within the next 24 to 48 hours to end the ongoing hostilities with Israel, a senior Hamas official said on Wednesday night.

But Moussa Abu Marzouk, a member of Hamas’s politburo, warned any further Israeli airstrikes would draw additional rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“We were clear from the start: bombardment for bombardment…escalation for escalation,” said Abu Marzouk in an interview with the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen network.

The Hamas official said he expected the ceasefire efforts to be successful, adding that he believed an armistice could be reached within “one or two days.”

Gaza Hamas leaders Ismail Haniya, center, and Mousa Abu Marzouq, right, brandish a weapon as they greet supporters during a parade marking the 27th anniversary of the Islamist movement’s creation on December 14, 2014 in Gaza City. (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

The ceasefire with Hamas would only relate to the ongoing hostilities between Israel and the terror group in the Gaza Strip — and nowhere else, Abu Marzouk emphasized.

“The ceasefire is linked to the Gaza Strip and does not include places of friction and conflict in the West Bank or within the Green Line,” Abu Marzouk said.

The Hamas-Israel fighting was preceded by violent clashes between Palestinians and police in Jerusalem, and began on May 10 with a Hamas rocket barrage on Jerusalem. Since the fighting began, there has been an uptick in Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, most recently in a Wednesday afternoon attempt by a Palestinian woman armed with an M-16 who opened fire at Israeli soldiers and civilians near the settlement of Kiryat Arba before being shot dead.

“The entire Palestinian people took part in this battle,” Abu Marzouk said, mentioning clashes in Jerusalem, West Bank and protests in Israeli mixed Arab-Jewish cities.

Marzouk cheered what he described as growing international support for the Palestinians during this latest round of fighting with Israel.

“We’ve seen an unprecedented level of sympathy for our nation,” Abu Marzouk said. “They have now discovered the lie of Israeli ‘victimhood.'”

The Hamas official also acknowledged two failed attempts by Israel to kill the head of its military wing, Muhammad Deif, in the past week.

Hamas military wing commander Muhammad Deif (courtesy)

“The Blessed Abu Khalid has been exposed to dozens of assassination attempts… but in this battle he was not hurt,” he said, referring to Deif by his nom de guerre.

In an interview with the Turkey-based Al-Sharq news site, Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub echoed Marzouk’s claim on the ceasefire.

“These efforts are expected to conclude within the next 24 hours,” Rajoub said, referring to negotiations through international mediators to achieve a ceasefire.

The comments come amid mixed Israeli reports about the progress of the ceasefire talks.

On Tuesday night, Hebrew media reported that an Egyptian ceasefire initiative had borne fruit and, barring any last-minute surprises, was slated to go into effect on Thursday morning,

Following denials by officials on all sides, Channel 12 news reported Wednesday night that Israeli security officials believe a ceasefire could come into effect from Friday afternoon, with combat in the Gaza Strip not ceasing before Friday.

Rockets are fired by Palestinian terrorists toward Israel, near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, May 19, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The report said that was the assessment shared during meetings of top Israeli defense brass Wednesday.

Egypt has been trying to broker a ceasefire between neighboring Israel and Hamas, as it is one of a handful of countries that maintains official ties with both.

An Egyptian diplomat said Wednesday evening that some of the country’s top officials are waiting for Israel’s response to a ceasefire offer, and that they expect amendments to their proposal.

At the same time, Israeli officials have told US officials that their pressure to reach a ceasefire quickly is only pushing off the possibility of a truce, according to Channel 12.

Earlier Wednesday, US President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call that he expects “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” as Washington stepped up pressure on Jerusalem to end the fighting after 10 days.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, in Dearborn, Michigan on May 18, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

Unlike the previous three calls, the readout made no mention of Biden backing Israel’s right to defend itself, which critics had said was a nod to Israel to continue striking in Gaza.

While Biden “expressed his support for a ceasefire” during a previous phone call with Netanyahu on Monday, a source familiar with the conversation said the American leader did not demand a timeframe from Israel to end the fighting in that earlier call. However, the president did warn Netanyahu that he would not be able to fend off pressure for much longer from within his Democratic Party and in the international community for an immediate ceasefire.

Following Wednesday’s phone call with Biden, Netanyahu said: “I am determined to continue this operation until its goal is achieved — to bring back peace and security to you, the citizens of Israel.”

He did not explicitly refer to Biden’s call, saying only that he greatly appreciates the US president’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

Palestinian firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a paint factory after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, May 18, 2021. (Yousef Masoud/AP)

According to Axios, the terse nature of Biden’s message on Wednesday was a result of a lack of sufficient progress in ceasefire talks, continued violence on the ground, and comments made by Netanyahu earlier to a group of foreign diplomats that indicated no pressing desire to end the conflict in the immediate future.

“We’re not standing with a stopwatch. We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time so it is not possible to set a timeframe,” Netanyahu told the diplomats, not ruling out a further escalation, including “conquering” the Gaza Strip.

“You can either conquer them — and that’s always an open possibility — or you can deter them,” he said.

The US has found itself even more alienated in the international community on the issue. For over a week, 14 of the 15 UN Security Council members have sought to issue a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire. The US has blocked the statement three times.

On Tuesday, France began circulating a draft of a more weighty Security Council resolution that would force the Biden administration to issue its first veto at the top UN body — something it likely wants to avoid as the president has vowed to take a more multilateral approach to diplomacy and improve ties with longtime allies that were damaged by his predecessor Donald Trump.

The United States hinted Wednesday that it would not support the French resolution

Responding to a query on the matter, a US official at the UN said, “We’ve been clear and consistent that we are focused on intensive diplomatic efforts underway to bring an end to the violence and that we will not support actions that we believe undermine efforts to de-escalate.”

Palestinians check the damage after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, on May 18, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Hamas and other Gaza terror groups have launched nearly 3,700 rockets at Israel since May 10, at times forcing people living near Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock.

Israel, in response, launched an extensive bombing campaign in the Strip. The humanitarian crisis has deepened in the impoverished strip, with the UN saying 72,000 Palestinians have been displaced.

Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured over the past ten days.

On Wednesday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry updated the death toll in the Strip to 227, including more than 64 minors. It was not immediately clear if the ministry tally included all of those killed or if there were Hamas operatives not included in the count.

According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night. The IDF says some of the Gaza civilian fatalities were killed by the terror groups’ own rockets, falling short and exploding in Gaza.

AP contributed to this report.

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