Top minister signals any truce with Hamas to be limited in scope

Refuting Hamas talk of a large-scale accord under discussion, security cabinet member Yoav Gallant says ‘There is no process toward an agreement’

Palestinians prepare to fly a kite near the Gaza border with Israel, east of Jabalia, on August 3, 2018. (AFP/ MAHMUD HAMS)
Palestinians prepare to fly a kite near the Gaza border with Israel, east of Jabalia, on August 3, 2018. (AFP/ MAHMUD HAMS)

A top cabinet minister on Monday played down the significance of indirect truce talks with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers, suggesting any ceasefire deal would be limited in scope.

Housing Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of the security cabinet, said what was at issue was a ceasefire, not a full-scale agreement.

His assessment appeared to fall short of what officials from the terrorist group have described as Egyptian efforts to broker a comprehensive agreement, including a significant easing of an 11-year-old border blockade and UN-led reconstruction of Gaza.

“There is no process toward an agreement,” he told Army Radio, a day after he attended a high-level security cabinet that discussed Gaza proposals for several hours.

Tensions have escalated since late March when Hamas launched what would become regular mass protests along Israel’s perimeter fence with Gaza.

For the past four months, there have been near-weekly, violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, leading to the most serious escalation of tensions between the two sides since the 2014 war.

Minister of Housing and Construction Yoav Gallant speaks at a signing ceremony for an agreement to build new apartments in Haifa, March 19, 2018. (Flash90)

The deadly clashes have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or cross the border fence.

At least 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the “March of Return” protests began, the Hamas ministry says. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.

One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

In addition to the border clashes, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

In recent weeks, Israel has further tightened Gaza restrictions in response to the incendiary devices, including suspending fuel shipments through Gaza’s only cargo crossing.

Gallant said the security cabinet discussed possible gestures, such as easing the latest restrictions, in exchange for a truce.

Trucks are seen at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on July 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Earlier Monday a source in Hamas quoted by the London-based, Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper said the group’s leadership has been promoting a “gradual” agreement with Israel that would begin with a halt to arson attacks and other violence along the Gaza border in exchange for eased border restrictions.

The Hamas source said the first stage of implementing the long-term ceasefire deal brokered by Egypt would see Israel fully reopen the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and increase the fishing zone off the Gaza coast. In return, Hamas official said the Strip’s rulers would commit to halting all attacks against Israel.

The second phase of the deal would include Hamas-Israel talks for a prisoner exchange agreement, and the implementation of long-proposed humanitarian projects in Gaza, the report said.

According to a Friday report on Hadashot news, the second phase of the deal would see an agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority under which the PA would take control of the Gaza Strip under the auspices of Egypt. It was not clear how that could be reconciled with Hamas’s refusal to relinquish its weaponry — a stance that has scuppered previous Fatah-Hamas reconciliation efforts.

In return, the PA would resume paying its employees in Gaza whose salaries it has withheld, the Hadashot report said. The second phase also reportedly outlines a road map for elections to be held in Gaza within six months.

A third phase would implement long-proposed humanitarian projects like the establishment of a port in the Sinai in Egypt that would serve Gaza, the report said.

The last phase, Hadashot reported, would be a five- to 10-year ceasefire agreement with Israel that would include negotiations for the return of the Israeli citizens and remains of IDF soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza.

Leah Goldin (r), mother of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin and Zehava Shaul, mother of late Israeli soldier Oron Shaul at a press conference ahead of the cabinet meeting outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, August 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli officials have previously said that Israel would not agree to a permanent deal with Hamas that did not include immediate talks for returning the Israeli citizens and remains of IDF soldiers held in Gaza. But on Sunday, Netanyahu said that a potential truce in Gaza was unlikely to include such a provision.

Hamas has demanded that Israel free terrorists held in its prisons in exchange for the return of the captive Israelis and the soldiers’ remains — a demand Jerusalem says it will not agree to.

Families of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two IDF soldiers killed in action in 2014 whose remains are believed to be in Hamas’s hands, have accused the Netanyahu government of failing to include the return of their sons’ bodies as a condition of the deal.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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