March 13, 2008 / 8:34 AM / 11 years ago

Hamas sets terms for ceasefire with Israel

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas set out its conditions on Wednesday for a ceasefire with Israel, calling for an end to all acts of Israeli “aggression” in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and the reopening of Gaza border crossings.

Hamas is demanding a say in the future functioning of the crossings, a condition rejected by Israel.

Hamas’s terms mirrored proposals raised by Egyptian mediators trying to piece together a truce deal, which would also end Gaza rocket attacks on Israel by militants from Hamas and other Palestinian groups.

Violence has declined sharply over the past week. A ceasefire could foster progress in U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas last June.

“There must be a commitment by Israel to end all acts of aggression against our people, assassinations, killings and raids, and lift the (Gaza) siege and reopen the crossings,” Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas’s administration in the Gaza Strip, said in a speech.

A ceasefire, he said, should be “reciprocal, comprehensive and simultaneous”, apply both to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and be approved by other Palestinian factions.

“We will not abandon you, our people in the West Bank,” Haniyeh said. “Aggression against you is aggression against us.”

Hamas had previously been vague about whether it would insist on including the West Bank in any Gaza truce.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — in a nod to a de facto truce — said there was “no need for negotiations” on a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

“We can have calm in the south if there is a total absence of rocket and missile fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel, if Hamas ceases terrorist operations against Israelis, and if there is an end to illegal smuggling of weapons and ammunition into the Gaza Strip,” said the spokesman, Mark Regev.

Regev appeared to rebuff the idea of halting Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank, saying it would be irresponsible “not to defend ourselves against ... hard-core terrorists” there.

He said Israel would not agree to the reopening of border crossings with the Gaza Strip if Hamas has any role “whatsoever” in their functioning.

LULL

Rocket salvoes from the Gaza Strip have tailed off since Israel ended an offensive in the territory nine days ago that killed 120 Palestinians. Israel has not raided the area since wrapping up the operation.

Egypt has stepped up truce efforts — amid Israeli leaders’ insistence they are not negotiating with Hamas. The Islamist group has spurned Western demands to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Israel tightened its Gaza border restrictions, worsening humanitarian conditions, after the Hamas takeover nine months ago. Israel is under international pressure not to cause the Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million inhabitants more hardship.

A reopening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt could be key to improving conditions for ordinary Palestinians.

Hamas officials have insisted in talks with Egypt it had a key role in any re-operation of Rafah but did not oppose joint administration of the facility with Fatah loyalists.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said current proposals giving Abbas formal authority over the crossings were unacceptable because Hamas would have effective control behind the scenes.

“Unfortunately, what appears to be proposed now, is a situation whereby Hamas would have real control of the crossings, something that is unacceptable,” the official said.

After Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip last year from Abbas’s Fatah faction, Abbas fired the Hamas-led government and appointed a new Western-backed cabinet in the West Bank.

A Hamas leader and envoys from the Fatah-dominated PLO plan separate visits to Yemen to discuss Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s reconciliation initiative.

Palestinian officials said Khaled Meshaal, seeking to amend the Yemeni ideas, would head a Hamas delegation but leave the country before the PLO representatives arrive.

Additional reporting by Adam Entous in Jerusalem, Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Editing by Dominic Evans

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