Under pressure, Hamas offers Israel truce talks
The Hamas leaders' proposal, coming after an Israeli attack killed 12 militants in Gaza Tuesday, was met with skepticism on both sides.
The leadership of Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since the inter-Palestinian war last summer, is reaching out to Israel, offering a "truce" if Israeli incursions into the strip are curtailed, the Associated Press reports.
The offer came from Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh after Israeli attacks killed 12 militants in Gaza Tuesday. But a leader of the Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant group that has claimed responsibility for much of the rocket fire emanating out of Gaza and targeted at Israel, rejected the proposal.
Haniyeh… reached out to Israel through a reporter for Israel's Channel 2 TV, said Hamas government spokesman Taher Nunu.
Al-Shafi told The Associated Press that the Hamas leader complained that Israeli attacks have foiled his attempts to halt the rocket fire. Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant group, has been responsible for most of the rocket fire out of Gaza since Hamas seized control of the area last June.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Hamza said Hamas had not approached his group about a cease-fire.
"This is not a time for truce," he told the AP. "We have to inflict revenge upon this criminal enemy."
Israel's Haaretz newspaper reports that a cabinet minister says the country should consider Hamas' proposal, though he hinted that he would oppose opening talks before rocket fire stops, which is one of Hamas's conditions. Dozens of rockets and mortars are fired at Israel from Gaza each week, though they rarely cause casualties.
Israel should not rule out indirect negotiations with Hamas in an effort to halt Qassam rocket fire at southern Israel, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz told Army Radio on Wednesday.
"Mediation is something we can think about but one thing needs to be clear," Mofaz told Army Radio. "This subject is the responsibility of Hamas and the terror groups and as long as these firings and terror from inside the strip won't stop we must continue this policy and not stop for even one hour."
Cabinet minister Ami Ayalon also said Israel should not rule out speaking to "anyone" in order to stop rocket attacks from Gaza, but urged caution to ensure a ceasefire would not lead to a strengthening of Hamas.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Israeli President Shimon Peres made it clear that he would oppose talks.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's announcement that his group is willing to hold cease-fire negotiations with Israel is a "pathetic and misleading attempt to divert international attention away from the crimes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad," President Shimon Peres announced Wednesday.
"If Hamas and Islamic Jihad stop firing rockets at our women and children, Israel will immediately hold its fire, so there is no need for negotiations," Peres said in a press release.
Right-wing (members of parliament) were enraged by Mofaz's remarks.
"When the entire world is boycotting Hamas, should we be the ones to talk to it?" said Likud (MP) Silvan Shalom.
"It would quite simply be a terrible mistake," continued Shalom. "Hamas will exploit this period of negotiations to restore its capabilities and continue smuggling weapons. We need to do everything in order to bring about a cessation in Kassam attacks, not through dialogue but through action."
Meanwhile. Reuters reports that the Israeli housing ministry is considering authorizing the construction of new Israel homes on occupied land near Jerusalem, though the government spokesman described the plan as very preliminary.
The expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and possible construction of new ones has been a major stumbling block in peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, which controls the West Bank.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israeli settlement expansion will "destroy the peace process and must be stopped." Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams plan to hold their second round of talks on Dec 23 or 24.
Israeli Construction and Housing Minister Zeev Boim played down the proposal to build new homes near what Israel refers to as Atarot and the Palestinians call Qalandia in the West Bank.
Boim told Army Radio the housing proposal was only in the conceptual stage. A senior Israeli official said the Housing Ministry has "all sorts of contingency plans" that go nowhere.
Writing in Lebanon's Daily Star, Rami Khouri warns that while Hamas may appear to be on the backfoot, with European governments pledging billions in aid to the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, the movement is still resilient; particularly because of Palestinian skepticism about new peace efforts launched at a conference in Annapolis, Md., earlier this month. He cited a new public opinion poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research that suggested that "supporting the Abbas-Fatah government financially was unlikely to pummel Hamas into political submission."
The poll showed that a lack of confidence in the Annapolis process was keeping support for Hamas (31 percent) and Fatah (49 percent) at levels almost identical to those of September.