Two-Thirds Support Talks With Arch-Enemy; Israeli Air Strike Kills 5 Hamas Militants
cbsnews.com, Feb. 27, 2008
JERUSALEM(CBS/AP)- As Israel's military continues its targeted campaign against Palestinian militants a new poll released Wednesday shows that almost two-thirds of the Israeli public supports direct peace talks with the arch-enemy, the militant group Hamas.
The poll, carried out by the Dialog company and published in the left-leaning Haaretz daily, showed that 64 percent of Israelis believe Israel should talk to Hamas now to bring a halt to the steady barrage of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and to win the release of a captured soldier, Cpl. Gilad Schalit.
Cpl. Schalit was seized in June 2006 by Hamas militants and has been held in Gaza since then as talks on a prisoner swap have stalled.
"The poll reflects the view among a growing number of Israelis that a truce is the only way to stop daily Palestinian rocket attacks," reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger.
Only 28 percent of Israelis reject talks with Hamas, according to the poll, that included 500 respondents and had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
The findings run contrary to Israeli government policy and most of the rhetoric coming from both civilian and military officials. The official line from leaders has been, and remains, that no negotiations will be held with Hamas until the rocket attacks stop and the group recognizes Israel's existence, reports Berger.
Several Hamas officials have proposed a truce with Israel.
Israel's government has opposed a truce with Hamas due to fears the Islamic group which wrested control of the Gaza Strip could use it to rearm for another round of conflict.
However, some Israeli officials have recently expressed support for such talks. Those officials include former heavyweights in Israel's defense establishment and Eli Moyal, mayor of the town of Sderot, which is bombarded almost daily by Gaza militants.
Moyal, seen at left standing next to the remnants of spent Palestinian rockets which landed in and around Sderot, came out in favor of peace-talks with Hamas in a radio interview on Sunday.
In the short term, the possibility of any cease-fire agreement seems unlikely, given intensifying violence between Hamas militants and Israeli forces.
An Israeli aircraft blew up a minivan carrying Hamas gunmen in southern Gaza on Wednesday, killing five militants, including two key commanders involved in rocket attacks on Israel, the group said.
After the strike, burned bodies in camouflage uniforms were visible in the white minivan. Berger reports Palestinian officials said a senior rocket engineer and a rocket squad commander were among the dead.
The air strike came on the heels of a Palestinian rocket attack on Israel that left a 10-year-old Israeli boy wounded Monday in Sderot. His arm was partially severed and reattached in surgery.
Berger says the number of Israelis supporting negotiations is far more than in previous polls. "The idea of talking to Hamas was once unthinkable because the group was behind dozens of bloody suicide bombings a few years ago and its charter calls for the destruction of Israel.
"But, recently radio talk shows have featured some former defense officials who say the only way to stop the rocket fire is to talk to Hamas about a truce," said Berger, who confirmed the significance within Israel of the Sderot mayor's comments.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that a peace deal with the Palestinians wouldn't necessarily be concluded by the end-year target that he and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set.
"The desire is to make an agreement within the year 2008," he told business leaders in Tokyo. "I'm not sure we will be able to achieve it, and certainly not to implement it in the year 2008."
President Bush oversaw a Mideast peace summit in November where he announced that Israel and the Palestinians would aim to achieve a comprehensive peace deal by the end of this year. Mr. Bush has expressed hope and confidence repeatedly since the summit in Maryland that the goal could be achieved.
Two other Hamas members were wounded in the Gaza air strike Wednesday, according to Hamas and Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of the Gaza Health Ministry.
Minutes after the first explosion, an Israeli missile struck another car nearby. Witnesses said the militants had abandoned that vehicle for the white minivan shortly before the strike. There were no casualties in the second attack.
"This is a new Israeli crime. It shows the bloody-mindedness of the occupation," said Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu.
The Israeli military confirmed the strikes, which it said targeted vehicles transporting militants.
The body of another Palestinian militant killed in central Gaza overnight was brought to the hospital in Gaza on Wednesday morning. The Islamic Jihad group said the man was one of its gunmen who had been killed in a clash with the Israeli military. The army said a militant approached the Gaza-Israel border fence late Wednesday and that soldiers had seen an explosion, likely caused by explosives the militant was carrying.
Israel's military operations in Gaza have not succeeded in stopping or even slowing the rocket fire.
Israel has been working to isolate Hamas since the Islamic group came to power in Gaza in June 2007. Hamas has been labeled a terror organization by Israel, the U.S. and EU.
In addition to its military strikes, Israel has imposed tough economic sanctions on Gaza, blocking most exports and allowing little more than basic humanitarian goods into the area.
The sanctions have caused widespread shortages of basic goods in Gaza. On Wednesday, the area's main water provider urged residents to boil all drinking water, citing a dire shortage of chlorine as a result of the blockade.
The Coastal Municipality Water Utility made the announcement in radio and newspaper advertisements. It said there was a "major concern over a health disaster due to possible contamination of the drinking water" and appealed to the international community for help.
Israeli officials were looking into the report and had no immediate comment.