Possible Gaza ceasefire discussed at inner cabinet meeting

Khaled Mashaal Hamas leader, says Israel must initiate cease-fire

Obama speaks with Egypt’s Morsi 

PM Netanyahu on how to move forward

UN’s Ban Ki Moon arrives in Cairo.

By TOVAH LAZAROFF, KHALED ABU TOAMEH

 

Israel diplomatic and security cabinet met late Monday night to discuss latest cease-fire initiatives, as international leaders continued to press for an end to Gaza hostilities.

Israel had agreed to briefly hold off on sending ground forces into Gaza, to allow time for cease-fire efforts in Cairo to continue, an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

PM Biyamin Netanyahu at cabinet meetin - Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO

PM Biyamin Netanyahu at cabinet meetin – Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO

“Israel prefers a diplomatic solution,” the official said. But he added that any agreement must provide a real solution that would erase the threat of rocket attacks against Israel’s southern residents.

If such a diplomatic solution is not found, then Israel is preparing its ground forces to enter Gaza, the official said.

US President Barack Obama called Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to underscore the necessity of ending Hamas rocket fire into Israel, and to talk about ways to de-escalate the situation.

He also spoke with Netanyahu, his third call with the prime minister since Operation Pillar of Defense was launched last Wednesday.

In both calls he said he regretted the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives.

In the middle of the afternoon it appeared that Hamas and Israel were close to a deal, and that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad had made a cease fire offer to Israel.

UN Ban Ki Moon arrived in Cairo on Monday, in hopes of helping both sides sign a cease-fire deal. He is expected to arrive in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal claimed Monday that Netanyahu had asked for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

“Netanyahu was the one who requested a cease-fire from the Americans, Egypt and the Europeans,” Mashaal told reporters in Cairo. “We were not the ones to ask for a cease-fire.”

Addressing Netanyahu, the Hamas leader said: “Gaza is not the weak chapter for your adventures. Gaza won’t be a testing ground for you. He who started the war should end it. This is the position of the political and military [Hamas] leadership.”

Mashaal boasted that Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip managed to achieve a balance of power with Israel within 48 hours after the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin al-Kassam.

Mashaal accused Netanyahu of ordering the IDF to target Hamas-affiliated institutions and media outlets ” to cover up for his crimes.”

He said that while Netanyahu had succeeded in killing Jabari, “he has failed to restore his army’s deterrence capability.”

Officials in the prime minister’s office denied Mashaal’s claim that Netanyahu had asked for a cease-fire.

“We have been hitting Hamas very hard,” the official said.

He explained that Israel had from the air attacked its weapons arsenal, its leadership, its buildings and communication apparatus.

“Hamas is under a lot of pressure and as a result they are saying many things, that are in no way connected to reality,” he said.

Mashaal in Monday’s speech warned Israel against launching a ground offensive on the Gaza Strip, adding that such a move would be “idiotic.”

The ground war won’t be a picnic, he cautioned. “Rather, it will bury Netanyahu politically. We are not afraid of a ground war. If the enemy launches a ground attack, we will face it with courage.”

Mashaal said that discussions to achieve a cease-fire were continuing, “but Hamas won’t succumb to Israel’s conditions.”

Hamas, he pointed out, was not opposed to a truce and is continuing to insist on the need to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip and halt Israeli military strikes.

“Netanyahu wants to negotiate with us with gunfire in order to impose his conditions on us,” Mashaal said.

He also criticized the US Administration, accusing it of double standards in dealing with the current conflict.

“What kind of a logic is this that says that Israel alone has the right to self-defense?” Mashaal asked.

Ezat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, said Monday that his movement would not accept a cease-fire “at any price.”

He claimed that Israel was in a state of “panic” because of the response of the Palestinian armed groups to the killing of Jabari.

Risheq said Hamas’s conditions for accepting a cease-fire, namely the lifting of the blockade and international assurances that Israel would stop its military operations in the future.

Israel in turn wants a security zone around the Gaza border and an end to weapons smuggling into the stripe.

Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair told President Shimon Peres that Egypt, Qatar, America and the UN were working to put in place a ceasefire.

Peres said that he appreciated efforts by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to end the hostilities.

“Egypt is a significant player in the Middle East. Strangely, it is Hamas that doesn’t listen to the Egyptian President,” he said.

Peres accused Iran of pressuring Hamas to continue the hostilities.

Iran is supplying Hamas “with arms, training them and sending them money,” Peres said.

On Monday night Germany Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrived in Israel on Monday night, where he met with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, before heading to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

On Sunday French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, similarly held meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah on a Gaza cease-fire.

 

View original Jerusalem Post publication at: http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=292612

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