(Reuters) - Israeli forces killed 33 Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Saturday in intense fighting that renewed threats of a broader Israeli offensive and put peace talks at risk.
Here are some of Islamist group Hamas’s options in Gaza:
Hamas has signaled its willingness to reach a ceasefire with Israel that would end rocket launchings by Hamas and other militant organizations. In return, Hamas wants Israel to cease all military strikes in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank. It also demands Israel lift a two-year-old Gaza blockade that has deepened hardship among the territory’s 1.5 million people.
Calm in the Gaza Strip and an improvement in the economic situation, particularly reopening trade routes through Israel and Egypt, could give Hamas a popularity boost in its power struggle with Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction holds sway in the West Bank.
Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas and other militants in 2006, could be used as a bargaining chip to dissuade Israel from invading the Gaza Strip.
Hamas officials said relatively little progress has been made in third-party talks, involving Egypt, on a deal that would free Shalit and several hundred Palestinian prisoners.
Palestinian sources say Hamas and other militant groups may be able to muster some 35,000 fighters to do battle with an invading Israeli force.
Israel, which has the best-equipped army in the Middle East and complete control of Gaza’s airspace, could overwhelm the militants, but it might not be able to stop sporadic rocket attacks on its southern towns and communities. Hamas says it has stockpiled long-range rockets that can hit the centre of the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, potentially posing a threat to some 250,000 residents of the city and areas close to Gaza.
Hamas fighters are believed to have prepared defenses that could inflict casualties on Israeli forces.
Hamas also could activate its armed wing in the West Bank and dispatch suicide bombers to strike in Israel.
Blasting new holes in the border fence with Egypt could be another option Hamas could use to alleviate the pressure on Gaza residents. It could also cause chaos that could disrupt Israel’s military plans. Israel, which pulled troops out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, could pre-empt such a move by reoccupying the Gaza-Egypt frontier.